With eight games left to play in the 2015-16 NHL regular season, the Anaheim Ducks have already punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
The Ducks currently have a hold on second place in the Pacific Division with 92 points. As is the case for every other playoff-bound NHL franchise except the Washington Capitals, the team’s position when the season officially comes to an end is still uncertain.
The Los Angeles Kings are right where they have been for most of the regular season, atop the Pacific Division. However, Anaheim is breathing on the necks of their rivals only three points behind them. On the other hand, the recently slumping San Jose Sharks find themselves four points below Anaheim in the standings.
If the postseason started today, the Ducks would be gearing up to start a seven-game series at home against their other rivals, the Sharks. Of course, it is in every team’s nature to strive for the best and you can bet the ranch on Anaheim giving it their all to pass the Kings and win the Pacific Division.
In reality, this may not be the best plan of action for the Ducks. In regards to possible first round matchups, it would benefit Anaheim most to stay put as the “second best” team in the Pacific.
The Devil You Know is Better than the Devil You Don’t
A seven-game series against San Jose in the first round of the playoffs would be far from a walk in the park for the Ducks. However, this is a team Anaheim is extremely familiar with, sharing a division and playing each other four times this season. With this much familiarity amongst the two squads, there are very few surprises either side can throw at one another.
The Ducks have played well against their in-state rival this season, winning the last three games after being shut out in the first one way back in October. Anaheim has had success preventing the offensively talented Sharks from strutting their stuff, allowing no more than two goals a game and shutting them out twice. In addition, San Jose has been struggling to produce anything positive which has resulted in a three-game losing streak.
In addition, San Jose has been struggling to produce anything positive which has resulted in a three-game losing streak.
If Anaheim does somehow pass Los Angeles and walk away champions of the Pacific Division, they would play the first wildcard team in the Western Conference. Whichever team that turns out to be, it will be coming from the Central Division. As will the second wildcard team (sorry Pacific Division).
As things stand right now, that would be the Nashville Predators. However, they are only four points behind the third-place Chicago Blackhawks and still have a chance at passing them in the standings. If this did somehow happen, the Ducks would take on Chicago in round one.
The Central Division has been the best division in the National Hockey League all season long. Taking on any team from the other division in the Western Conference is just something the Ducks would prefer not to do. Although the Blackhawks have appeared to take a step back over the last month, everyone is aware of how hot they can become once the postseason begins. No matter where Chicago ends up in the standings, this team is not going to be an easy one to put away.
Taking on Nashville would be far from a cakewalk as well. The Predators are solid in all aspects of the game and could really go places if Pekka Rinne gets hot. In addition, Nashville has played the Ducks very well this season, winning two out of the three games.
When it comes down to it, any regular season success a team has had over another can be thrown out the window once the playoffs begin. Anything can happen on any given night and all 16 teams in the quest for the cup have a shot at hoisting it when everything is all said and done.
Although no matchup is going to be a simple one, the Ducks would be better off facing a devil they know rather than a devil they don’t know in the first round. Familiarity can go a long way in advancing Anaheim one step closer to their ultimate goal.
John Gove is an elementary school educator who writes about hockey in his spare team. Over the past five years, John has covered the game at various levels. Now, he exclusively focuses his coverage on prospects and the developmental leagues.