Stars vs. Ducks: Preview and Prediction for NHL Playoffs 2014 Matchup

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2014

Stars vs. Ducks: Preview and Prediction for NHL Playoffs 2014 Matchup

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    Associated Press

    National Hockey League teams spend six months and 82 games working to capture the best possible seeding for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    Though one team is a top seed and one is a wild card, first-round opponents the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars were both thrilled with their regular-season outcomes this year. The Ducks put together a strong season and finished at the top of the Western Conference, while the Stars made the playoffs for the first time in six years when they grabbed the final playoff seed, outracing the Phoenix Coyotes.

    The Stars and Ducks have met twice before in the playoffs, with each team winning once. Interestingly, the lower-seeded team prevailed both times.

    In 2003, Anaheim beat Dallas in six games in the second round, then reached the Stanley Cup Final before falling to the New Jersey Devils. In 2008, the Stars toppled the defending Cup champion Ducks in six games in the first round. 

    The Western Conference No. 1 seed Anaheim Ducks will open their playoffs against the second wild card Dallas Stars on Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Here's a look at what to expect from the series.

Regular-Season Recap

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    Debora Robinson/Getty Images

    Anaheim Ducks: 54-20-8, 116 points, first in Western Conference

    Just two years removed from missing the playoffs, the Anaheim Ducks have stormed back to the top of the Western Conference. In 2012-13, the Ducks won the Pacific Division before being upset in seven games by the Detroit Red Wings. This year, they finish the season as the top seed in the entire Western Conference. They're looking to advance past the quarterfinal for the first time in five years.

    The Ducks are coming off their best season in franchise history. Their 116 points in 2013-14 are six better than their previous high from 2006-07, the year of their only Stanley Cup win.

    Anaheim finished second in the league in scoring and set a franchise record of 266 goals in 2013-14, leaving them one behind the Chicago Blackhawks. Olympians Ryan Getzlaf and and Corey Perry both finished in the top five in NHL scoring and were backed up by a deep supporting cast. Ten different players scored 10 goals or more for the Ducks this season.

    Much has been made of the Ducks' great depth in net, but Anaheim finished 10th in the league with 209 goals against, an average of 2.55 goals per game.

     

    Dallas Stars: 40-31-11, 91 points, eighth in Western Conference

    The Dallas Stars took great strides toward restoring their franchise to respectability this season. They've been rewarded with the team's first postseason berth in six years.

    After offseason changes that included the hiring of new general manager Jim Nill and head coach Lindy Ruff and a blockbuster trade to acquire Tyler Seguin, Dallas has been explosive this season, if a touch inconsistent.

    Seguin and linemate Jamie Benn both put up career-best numbers, finishing in the top 10 in NHL scoring. The Stars feature a dynamic mix of veterans and youngsters, with eight players cracking the 10-goal plateau this year.

    As the clear No. 1 netminder, Kari Lehtonen will be expected to carry the load for the Stars.

     

    Though Anaheim finished 25 points above Dallas in the standings, the season series favors the Stars. Dallas went 2-1 against Anaheim, though now-departed backup Dan Ellis was in net for both Stars wins.

Key Storylines

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    Associated Press

    Anaheim Ducks

    1. Seeing Things Through: The favoured Ducks were up 3-2 in their 2013 playoff series before the Detroit Red Wings stormed back to win the last two games. The odds fall even more heavily in Anaheim's favour this year, so the Ducks must strike swiftly and decisively to avoid even a whisper of another possible upset.
    2. Teemu's Last Stand: All signs are indicating that this year's playoffs will truly be the swan song for 43-year-old Finnish superstar Teemu Selanne. With just nine goals and 27 points this season, Selanne's contribution to the Ducks was limited, but he was one of the best players at the Olympics in February, proving he still has an extra gear available for big games. Selanne could be the X-factor for Anaheim.
    3. Crowded Crease: As No. 1 goaltender Jonas Hiller has faltered down the stretch, the Ducks will face a big decision about who starts the series. Two rookies, Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, have both posted better numbers. Coach Bruce Boudreau will have a tough choice for his Game 1 starter.

     

    Dallas Stars

    1. Inexperience: Stars captain Jamie Benn will play his first-ever playoff game when the puck drops at the Honda Center on Wednesday, and he won't be alone. Rookies such as Alex Chiasson and Valeri Nichushkin are important parts of the Dallas lineup, and other key players such as Brenden Dillon and Cody Eakin will also be making their playoff debuts.
    2. Coaches Come West: Like former Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who joined the Ducks late in 2011, former Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff moved west to take over the Stars in the summer of 2013. Ruff has the more successful playoff record, having coached the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999. This will be the first time the coaches have faced each other in the postseason.
    3. The Peverley Effect: The Stars suffered the single scariest moment of the 2013-14 NHL season when forward Rich Peverley collapsed on his team's bench on March 10 after a heart incident. Peverley has undergone surgery and won't return this season. He provides a beacon of inspiration for his teammates.

Players to Watch

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    Debora Robinson/Getty Images

    Anaheim Ducks: Stephane Robidas

    A member of the Stars for parts of 11 seasons, Stephane Robidas was dealt to the Ducks at the trade deadline for a fourth-round draft pick while he was out of the lineup with a broken leg. Robidas was an important part of the Stars core before his trade—he even housed rookie Brendan Dillon in 2012-13, per Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News.

    Robidas has looked good in his first 14 games in a Ducks uniform—will he be able to put aside his emotions and focus on winning? 

     

    Dallas Stars: Ray Whitney

    Whitney was able to parlay some clutch moments in the Phoenix Coyotes' improbable 2012 run to the Western Conference Final into a two-year, $9 million contract with the Dallas Stars. The 41-year-old has posted 29- and 31-point seasons on that contract but can make good on owner Tom Gaglardi's investment if he finds a way to be a difference-maker against Anaheim.

Goaltender Breakdown

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Anaheim Ducks: Jonas Hiller, Frederik Andersen and John Gibson

    Bruce Boudreau is facing a big decision about who to tap as his starting goaltender.

    Jonas Hiller was Anaheim's starter in the 2012-13 playoffs and the No. 1 this year, but now has a GAA of 2.48 and has faltered down the stretch.

    Rookie Frederik Andersen has been solid all year, with a GAA of 2.29 and a record of 20-5-0, but the best option of all could be newcomer John Gibson. He was named second star of the week in the very first week of his NHL career after shutting out Vancouver Canucks in his first game and going 3-0-0 with a 1.33 GAA in his first three career starts.

     

    Dallas Stars: Kari Lehtonen and Tim Thomas

    The goaltending situation is much more clear-cut for the Stars. Kari Lehtonen is the No. 1 with a record of 33-20-10 and a GAA of 2.41 in 65 games this season. Tim Thomas hasn't instilled a lot of confidence since being acquired at the trade deadline. The 39-year-old is a Stanley Cup winner whose experience could be valuable in the locker room.

Biggest Mismatch

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    Alex Gallardo

    Experience. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne were the top three scorers on Anaheim's Stanley Cup-winning team in 2007, and key defenseman Francois Beauchemin was also part of that group.

    The Ducks' top five scorers in 2013-14 have nearly 160 combined games of playoff experience—and that doesn't count 118 games for Selanne, who sits further down the ranks. Of the Stars' top eight scorers, only two have ever appeared in the playoffs: Tyler Seguin for 42 games over three seasons with the Boston Bruins and Alex Goligoski for two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Ray Whitney is the Stars' equivalent of Selanne: the 41-year-old has 103 games of playoff experience. He won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and parlayed a strong 2012 playoffs with Phoenix into his current two-year, $9 million deal with Dallas. Whitney will need to bring a heavy dose of veteran leadership to the young Stars if they have any hope of besting the tight, experienced Ducks team.

Ducks Will Win If...

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    Debora Robinson/Getty Images

    The Anaheim Ducks will win if they can return to their early-season form, especially at home.

    Anaheim started the 2013-14 season with 16 wins in a row at the Honda Center and will have home-ice advantage guaranteed through the first three rounds of the playoffs. If they are ungracious hosts to the Stars, they'll have no trouble advancing.

    The class of the league through the first half of the season, Anaheim had some stretches during the late stages where it was merely human but finished the year with four straight wins. The Ducks look to be dialed in for playoff success.

Stars Will Win If...

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Dallas Stars will win if they can get the Ducks back on their heels.

    Last season against Detroit, Anaheim started to lose composure as the Red Wings hung around, keeping the games and the series close.

    The Ducks' toughest decision coming into the series will be their choice of starting goaltender. If the Stars' snipers can get an early jump on whichever keeper gets the call and plant some doubt, the favourites could be sent reeling.

Prediction

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    Debora Robinson/Getty Images

    Dallas has shown great growth this season. Its stars, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, could be well on their way to becoming the next Getzlaf and Perry. Barring any crazy breakdowns from Anaheim early in the series, the Ducks should have no trouble advancing to the next round.

    Anaheim has a group of productive stars in their prime, an impressive supporting cast and a sentimental favorite in Teemu Selanne. Expect a long playoff run this season.

    Ducks in five.

     

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com.