Tonight the Western conference will get a great East-West match up as the surging Boston Bruins will face off with the downward spiraling Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center in California. Both teams will want to get the two points so they can enhance their playoff chances at the other team’s expense.
Right now, the East is jammed with competition, the Bruins are tight in the middle of that race for the final two wild-card spots. Boston has played well since interim head coach Bruce Cassidy took over from ex-coach Claude Julien on Feb. 7. The Bruins have won four successive games since then and have scored 15 goals along the way. Boston was one of the few teams to come out of its league-mandated bye week with a win, which was a 2-1 overtime win over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night.
“Yeah, we were excited to get back at it and come together again,” left winger Brad Marchand told the Boston media. “It’s always fun to get back to it when you have a few days off. It gets you excited to play again. We knew we had to work hard, and again we knew it wouldn’t be our best game, but we worked through it.”
Marchand’s comments show how the team has responded to the new leadership under Cassidy and their refreshed confidence.
“It is obviously pretty high,” center Frank Vatrano told media. “We just need to keep paying attention to the things we’re doing well and we’ll keep having a happy locker room. If we keep playing aggressive like we’ve been doing, we’ll be good.”
The Bruins have been bringing their enthusiasm to practice too.
“I see a little more hop in their step, simply because when you win, people are happy,” Cassidy told the press. “It’s amazing what happens when you’re in a good frame of mind, and you can push the pace up even higher.”
The Ducks, are still on the hunt for consistency which has eluded them all season. Anaheim will come into the Wednesday night showdown after racking up six losses in nine games, and eight losses in the past 13. Regardless, the Ducks are only five points behind the first-place Sharks in the Pacific Division and might still see playoff action if they smarten up.
“It gets frustrating when you want to be heading in the right direction going into the end of the year,” defenseman Josh Manson told the Orange County Register. “Throughout the year, we’d have a lapse that would end up costing us a game, and we’d be clawing our way back. We’ve got to get that out of our game.”
The Ducks have not been as enthusiastic as Boston, they have had to deal with the loss of their star center, Antoine Vermette, who currently is appealing a 10-game suspension for slashing an official on Feb. 14. Vermette has won 62.4 percent of his faceoffs and ranks as one of the NHL’s best in that category. His absence will force Rickard Rakell to move from left wing to center and take the faceoffs, with wingers Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase having to flank Ryan Getzlaf.
“We’re trying to put some different combinations together,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle told local media. “Those aren’t easy minutes for those guys to step into.”
It’s tough because when things were finally starting to look up for the Ducks, they embarrassed themselves in the desert in Arizona. They weren’t even at the rink mentally. As a result, Anaheim took the loss despite a lukewarm comeback attempt. Mediocrity has been their moniker lately, and they can’t just be treading water if you want to be a threat in the playoffs. They will need to find that consistency.
As the big, bad Bruins come to Anaheim, they will have to prove to themselves that they can win. The last time these teams met was in Boston on December 15th, when the Ducks took down the Bruins 4-3. They need to repeat that effort again. Boston is right outside the final wild card behind Florida and one point behind Toronto for the third spot in the Atlantic. They’l be hungry for duck when they come a-knocking.
When you look at the goalkeepers, John Gibson should be getting the nod for Anaheim. He hasn’t faced Boston yet since it was Bernier who started the game in Boston in December. Tuuka Rask also didn’t start in the last game between these two teams as former Duck, Anton Khudobin played. In the games in which Rask has played Anaheim, he hasn’t done well. He has a 1-4-1 record with a save percentage of .873 and a GAA of 3.48. So Anahiem has a chance tonight to beat him.
The Ducks need to take comfort in the fact that they have defeated the Bruins six games in a row, and are 8-1-1 in their last ten against the B’s. So they’ll be hoping that trend will continue as they close off this short season series with Boston.
We expect the Ducks to come out sprinting, since they’ll be at home and want to put the other losses behind them.