ANAHEIM (AP) — Ryan Getzlaf was a 10-year-old kid growing up in Saskatchewan the last time the Winnipeg Jets were in the NHL playoffs.
The captain of the Anaheim Ducks thinks this long-awaited event on the prairies is a fine experience for the city and for hockey in general.
He also hopes it only lasts a few games before the top-seeded Ducks move forward in their Stanley Cup push.
Getzlaf, Corey Perry and the Pacific Division champion Ducks get to work Thursday night against the upstart Jets, who rode an impressive wave of late-season momentum all the way to the city’s first playoff berth since 1996 and the franchise’s first postseason trip since moving north from Atlanta.
“They’ve been in the league four years now, and they’ve been building,” Getzlaf said. “They’ve been doing things the right way, I thought. They brought up some of their young guys, developed them and then brought in some guys to help them. Good, strong hockey team that’s built a good foundation.”
Much the same could be said of the Ducks, who persevered through two early round playoff failures to get right back on top of the Western Conference standings again this year. While Anaheim has a stronger playoff pedigree and experience, Winnipeg has toughness, momentum and what’s expected to be a massive home-ice advantage when the series shifts to Manitoba next week.
“It’s the most exciting time, to make the playoffs,” Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. “That’s why you play hockey. We weren’t able to do it the last few years, so it definitely felt really good, but it’s not over yet. Hopefully there’s a lot of games in front of us.”
The Jets play a physical, aggressive style of hockey that depends on big hits by defensemen Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and their teammates. Yet Anaheim also has a reputation as a hard-hitting, bad-tempered team, albeit with world-class scoring talent on the top line and throughout the lineup.
“They’re a similar-built team to us,” Getzlaf said. “They have a good back end, and they’re heavy. You look up and down our lineup, we’re built the same way. It’s going to be a fun series.”
Here are some things to watch in the series stretching more than 1,900 miles from Katella Avenue to Portage and Main:
UNDERDOG FAVORITES: With their late-season surge, the Jets are a popular pick to extend their playoff return into the second round. The majority of hockey pundits on both sides of the border — but particularly on the northern side — seem to be picking Winnipeg for what would ostensibly be an upset. That’s just more fuel for the Ducks, who swept their three-game series with the Jets, won 51 games overall and finished atop the Western Conference for the second straight year. All it got them was the chance to be discounted and overlooked by critics of their power play, coach Bruce Boudreau’s playoff record and a tendency to get mired in close games. The Jets are the playoff newcomers, but the Ducks clearly have more to prove.
GOALIE TALES: Pavelec was the goalie that many Jets fans loved to hate in recent seasons, yet he nearly carried the Jets to the postseason this spring, finishing the regular season with three consecutive road shutouts as Winnipeg held off the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings for the final postseason spot. The Ducks’ goalie dilemma cleared up this month when John Gibson got hurt, clearing the way for steady Frederik Andersen to be the No. 1 starter.
TOP TALENT: By now, the hockey world knows all about Getzlaf and Perry, who are likely to team with Patrick Maroon on the Ducks’ vaunted top line. The Jets’ No. 1 line has a lower profile, but also contains the team’s top three scorers. The top line could cement its reputation in the postseason when center Bryan Little, captain Andrew Ladd and U.S. Olympian Blake Wheeler go to work after combining for 175 points this season.
KEEP IT TIGHT: If these teams play close games, Anaheim could have an edge. The Ducks were an astonishing 33-1-7 in one-goal games this season, highlighting their remarkable poise under pressure. Anaheim also set an NHL record with 18 victories when trailing after two periods or at any point in the third.
TEEMU AND MATHIEU: The Jets and Ducks don’t share much in their disparate hockey histories, but they have two pertinent connections: Teemu Selanne and Mathieu Perreault. The Finnish Flash started his career in Winnipeg and ended it in Anaheim, scoring hundreds of goals and making millions of fans before his retirement last spring. Selanne could show up in the stands in Anaheim, but the Ducks don’t know if they’ll see Perreault on the ice. The veteran center revitalized his career in Anaheim with 43 points last season, but the Ducks allowed him to leave as a free agent. Perreault scored 41 points for the Jets, but might not play in Game 1 due to a lower-body injury.
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