Anaheim: The Pacific Division champions endured two four-game funks late in the season, but that was long after they had established their rise from the wreckage of a 34-36-12 run in 2011-12.
First-year goaltender Viktor Fasth’s string of eight straight winning decisions between Jan. 26 and Feb. 16 set a tone for the turnaround. Going into Saturday’s action, Fasth and colleague Jonas Hiller had virtually identical records of 15-5-2 and 15-6-4 respectively, although Fasth has been decidedly stingier with four shutouts and a better GAA and save percentage.
Of course, the netminders’ "praetorian guards" needed to do their part to uphold the Ducks’ run and defenseman Sheldon Souray, Francois Beauchemin’s new first-unit associate, has personified the turnaround.
Only two years removed from spending a full season in the AHL, the 36-year-old pitched in 17 points and led Anaheim with a plus-23 rating going into Anaheim’s final regular-season game.
There has been a gratifyingly broad range of reliable strikers up front as well. Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Kyle Palmieri, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne all struck double digits in the goal column while Matt Beleskey and Saku Koivu tallied eight apiece.
Detroit: The Red Wings had four sets of two consecutive victories and a separate pair of three game-winning streaks, one of which was all of a three-game homestand within the final week of the regular season.
All of those scraps of good fortune, but most noticeably that sweep of a homestand, effectively salvaged Detroit’s ongoing string of now 22 consecutive playoff appearances.
Three particular individuals might as well stand as symbols of those three victories that set the stage for the Wings to clinch their spot on Saturday.
The seasoned forward tandem of Pavel Datsyuk and first-year captain Henrik Zetterberg topped the charts with output in the 30-assist and 40-point range. Meanwhile, goaltender Jimmy Howard performed in defiance of a depleted defense that had lost Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart over the summer.