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Adam Brady is the Director of Publications & New Media for the Anaheim Ducks and Honda Center. Email him by CLICKING HERE.

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(All times Pacific unless otherwise noted.)


Updated May 27 at 3:49 p.m.

A few random thoughts while I try to come to terms with the fact there is a team in the Stanley Cup Final that finished the regular season with one fewer point than the Ducks:

- The two (or three, if you’re counting the number of guys involved) biggest concerns on the minds of Ducks fans right now – the statuses of Bobby Ryan and Niederlanne) were addressed by Bob Murray in talks with the OC Register’s Eric Stephens this week. On the negotiations with restricted free agent Ryan, Murray said he is in the “very early stages of negotiations” with Ryan’s agents, Don Meehan and Mark Guy and that they have “gone back and forth with some proposals." (A quick note on Meehan and Guy’s company, Newport Sports Management. It’s not, as some might think, based in Newport Beach, which happens to be Ryan’s home city. It’s actually based in Toronto, and represents a number of current and past NHL greats. In fact, the company is so revered, it’s website is simply www.thehockeyagency.com.)

Stephens correctly points out that Anaheim’s negotiations with Ryan are far different from the situation they faced in the summer of 2007 when they didn’t match the offer sheet that allowed Edmonton to sign away Dustin Penner. The Ducks aren't dealing with the same salary cap restraints this time around.

Meanwhile, Murray reiterated the hope that 8 and 27 will make their decisions on whether they want to keep playing this game in time for the June 25-26 draft, a time when teams not only build for the future, but tend to make deals that affect the present. (Remember, the Pronger-Lupul-Sbisa-draft picks trade happened during last year’s draft.)

“It’s like I said before,” Murray said of Captain and Flash (which strikes me as a heck of a name for a crime-fighting duo), “We’ll give them time to get rested. … We still have time here.

“I think they know that. I know that they know I need to get on with what I’ve got to get on with. That’s fair to both parties.”

Stephens points out that Niedermayer’s numbers were down from what he produced in the past, but that he was an impressive plus-8 after the Ducks dealt Ryan Whitney and brought in Lubomir Visnovsky. (I cringe whenever people who point out that Niedermayer might be getting on in years because he’ll be 37 in August, especially since he was born exactly three days after me.) Selanne, by the way, had 27 goals in just 54 games after he was hampered by hand and jaw injuries, averaging out to what would have been an eye-opening 41 in an 82-game season.

Murray, who said he saw Selanne recently and that “he looks great” added, “He had a long, tough year. We didn’t talk about hockey. I’m giving him the space. I said I was going to do that.”

- Speaking of Selanne, he plays a part in a new “No Words” commercial for the Stanley Cup Final that focuses on the emotion of winning the Cup that causes some of the game’s toughest guys to be rendered speechless. See if you don’t get chills right around the 20-second mark.

- We get so many emails asking about the music our DJs play during Ducks games at Honda Center, we finally decided to create an iMix (via iTunes) that includes 49 songs. Click here to check them out, on iTunes, where you can download them all or just pick the ones you like best.

- The Bleacher Report website has a feature on the 25 Greatest Sports Movie Quotes Of All Time, with video accompanying each one of them. Among the honorees: “Yo, Adrian!,” “It's in the hole!,” “There’s no crying in baseball” and pretty much the greatest speech in the history of movies:

“Great moments... are born from great opportunity. And that's what you have here, tonight, boys. That's what you've earned here tonight. One game. If we played 'em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It's over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw 'em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it.”

And just as inspiring as that speech, checking in at No. 19 was: “Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack!” from a movie called “The Mighty Ducks.” (Not exactly a top-25er in my book, but I'll take their word for it.)

Updated May 24 at 1:24 p.m.

A few random items while I wonder if I'm the only person on this planet who didn't care about the "Lost" finale last night:

- The Ducks maintained their stranglehold on the "only California team to win the Stanley Cup" for another year when the Sharks were beaten by the Blackhawks in Game 4 last night to complete the sweep. You have to wonder what the feeling in the Bay Area is after that one, as another Sharks postseason ends in disappointment. Sure, they made it to the conference final (a marked improvement on their first-round ouster last year). But for a No. 1 seed to get swept, even if it was at the hands of a Chicago team that looks unbeatable right now? That's got to be hard to swallow. And there is already talk of what another postseason of falling short of expectations will mean for the Sharks, who have guys like Patrick Marleau and goalie Evgeni Nabokov facing free agency this summer.

- Speaking of the Ducks winning the Cup, there is a very interesting (and frankly, flattering) article on The Hockey News website making a case that the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks were the best Stanley Cup champions of all time. The author of the piece, Ryan Kennedy, compares those Ducks to another juggernaut, the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens and argues the Ducks would come out on top in a seven-game series. (I was a little surprised he didn't mention some of those Gretzky Oilers teams or the back-to-back-champion Red Wings from the early 2000s). Anyway, here's part of his argument: 

That Ducks team featured three sure-fire Hall of Famers in Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne; an incredibly potent kid line featuring Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner; two excellent goalies in J-S Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov; tons of toughness and the premier shutdown line of Sammy Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen.

Anaheim dropped only five games in the entire Cup tourney, two of which came at the hands of the Red Wings, who went on to capture the Cup themselves the next year with a very similar lineup.

- Speaking of the '06-'07 Ducks and The Hockey News, former Anaheim defenseman Joe DiPenta (now in the Buffalo orga-nigh-zay-shun) continues his blog for THN's website, and in the latest edition he talks about a playoff defeat with the Portland Pirates and his potential future plans. 

- Example No. 832 of hockey players being the toughest athletes on earth: Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith had seven teeth knocked out by a puck in yesterday's Game 4 and only missed a few minutes of action. Interviewed after the game about his impending visit to the dentist, Keith shrugged and said, "Hopefully I can get some new teeth. My teeth weren't that good to start with." Keith revealed in another interview that he actually had one of the teeth stuck in his throat at one time and he said, "I'll take all my teeth as long as we can keep winning the playoffs." Yeesh. 

- Philly can join Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final by winning Game 5 at home tonight. And even though (as mentioned in this space last Thursday) the Ducks would recover a fourth-round pick in 2011 if Philly captures the Cup, I have a hard time believing most Ducks fans would root for the Flyers. But let's see if I'm right:

Updated May 20 at 1:48 p.m.

A few random items while I wonder how Justin Bieber was nominated for a BET award:  

- Today is the three-year anniversary of what is unarguably the biggest goal in the history of the Anaheim Ducks. In Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against Detroit at Joe Louis Arena, Scott Niedermayer scored the tying goal with just 47.3 seconds remaining and the Anaheim net empty. He wristed a shot from the slot that clicked off the stick of Nicklas Lidstrom and fluttered past Dominik Hasek, as Niedermayer threw his hands in the air and ironically (for one of the most graceful skaters in the history of the game) fell flat on his face just before being mobbed by his teammates. Here's the majestic video:

That goal, of course, sent the game to overtime, where Teemu Selanne won it with this thing of beauty after a Andreas Lilja turnover 11:57 into the extra session. (I'll never forget what The Joe felt like at that moment, virtual silence except for the sounds of Detroit fans pounding their seats with their fists and shouting the world's most favorite expletive.) Anaheim would come home to capture Game 6, and then beat Ottawa in five games for the Cup (but I'm sure you knew that).

- For those of you looking for something, anything, that would give an indication of Selanne's future plans, witness this YouTube find of the Flash being interviewed during last month's Long Beach Grand Prix by someone named Gordon "Lug Nutzz" (yes that's his real nickname) Stewart. When Stewart asks about Selanne's intentions, saying "...hopefully you come back to the Ducks next year," Selanne responds with, "Yeah, there's a good chance. I'm going to take a couple of months off and think about if I'm ready to start pushing myself again. It was a tough year with injuries, but I feel great, so let's see."

- If you've ever wondered what kind of music Bobby Ryan likes to listen to, you can get a small insight into that via the recently posted Puck Tracks Podcast with Ryan on the Puck Daddy blog. In it, BR mentions the song "1901" by Phoenix as a song he likes to listen to before games as well as play on the guitar with Joffrey Lupul (see yesterday's blog for photos of those two collaborating). Meanwhile, he cites Ray LaMontagne as his favorite artist, someone he got into "when I was in Maine in the minors" because LaMontagne hails from there and played live there frequently. Ryan lists "Jolene" as a favorite song by LaMontagne, someone BR says he likes to put on "when I'm cooking dinner at home or we're on the road. He puts you in a good mood..." That's right, ladies, when he's cooking dinner. This is the equivalent of John Mayer recording "Daughters" a few years ago in the "As If Chicks Didn't Like Him Enough" genre. 

- And if you just can't get enough BR, here's a very cool photo gallery of the kid from the 2009-10 season, put together by staffer Matt Vevoda.

- This week's edition of Movie I Can't Wait to Come Out Just So I Won't Have to Watch the Ads Anymore -- "MacGruber." A close second: "Sex and the City 2."

- Canada getting knocked out of the World Championships means that Corey Perry will not join Scott Niedermayer as the only guys  to have won a Stanley Cup, Memorial Cup, Olympic, World Junior and World Championship titles (Niedermayer also won a World Cup). That's too bad. Would have been kind of cool. 

- Some of you, noting Philly's run through the postseason, have inquired about the conditional draft pick the Ducks got in the Pronger/Lupul/Sbisa trade from last summer. That pick was altered a little bit when the Ducks traded a conditional 2011 fourth round pick to Montreal for Kyle Chipchura back in early December. Now, if the Flyers win the Cup, the Ducks get that fourth round pick back and Montreal would instead receive a third round pick in either 2010 or 2011 (the year has yet to be decided) from Philly. Confusing? Absolutely.

- We hockey fans have for years been complaining about the lack of TV coverage on the sport, so it's nice to see things go in our favor once in awhile. Tuesday night, when Versus was televising the Amgen Tour of California cycling, they automatically switched over to the pregame of Canadiens-Flyers Game 2 at exactly 4 p.m. PT. The only problem was, the cycling race was just minutes away from finishing. Versus alerted viewers beforehand about the switchover, and indicated they could watch the finish of the race on the Versus website. That, however, didn't exactly appease race fans, nor the actual racers -- notably the a guy named Lance Armstrong. He took to Twitter to post the following beef (asterisks provided by me): Who's the dumb*** @versustv that cut off @AmgenTourofCali coverage w/ a mile to go for pregame hockey??

Armstrong, by the way, had a bad crash today during the Tour of California and was forced out of the race. The lesson: Don't mess with the hockey gods.

Updated May 19 at 1:48 p.m.

To truly appreciate what the Philadelphia Flyers are doing in these playoffs, you have to consider where they were about five weeks ago. That would be the night of April 11, a game at home with the Rangers that the Flyers entered with a putrid 3-7-1 streak in their last 11 games. Philly won that game in an intense shootout, just barely sealing a playoff berth and sending the Rangers packing. (Think what you want about the shootout, but that was pretty cool.)

And to truly appreciate what the Flyers are doing in these playoffs, you have to consider where they were two weeks ago, standly firmly at death's door after falling behind the Boston Bruins 3 games to none in the second round. But somehow, some way the Flyers came all the way back, winning the next three games and then crawling out of a 3-0 hole in Game 7 in Boston to win that game in dramatic fashion.  

(We've already sufficiently covered how Philly's win in that game hurt the Ducks, who own the Flyers' first round pick this year, a pick that immediately plummeted from 15th to the bottom four. So, we won't mention it again.)

Philly scored four unanswered goals to pull that Game 7 out, a streak that became 10 unanswered, and then 13 unanswered, thanks to resounding victories over fellow upset specialist Montreal in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final. And they've been doing it with big help from a former Anaheim Duck. 

No, we're not talking about the tall guy, we're talking about goalie Michael Leighton, whose performance in these playoffs is just as improbable as his team's -- though maybe more so. To call Leighton a "journeyman" is an understatement for a guy who has manned the net for no less than nine NHL and AHL teams in his professional career. That even includes some time in this organization, though you won't see the words "Anaheim Ducks" in his career stats listing. That's because Leighton never played a game in a Ducks uniform despite being signed as a free agent on July 13, 2006 (coincidentally, 10 days after Anaheim got the tall guy from Edmonton). At right is a rare photo of Leighton in a Ducks sweater, taken before a preseason game against the Kings, when his mask still had a Sabres logo on it.

After training camp that year, Leighton was sent to Anaheim's then-AHL affliate in Portland and was set to be called up to the big club November 27 when Ilya Bryzgalov was too injured to suit up for the Ducks' next game. (That game, again coincidentally, was the tall guy's highly anticipated first game in Edmonton after the trade. And Bryzgalov, despite being hurt, did make the trip to Edmonton, where he conducted the legendary "Why you haff to be mad?" interview.)

Leighton never made it up with the Ducks because he had to clear waivers to be recalled and he was instead claimed by the Nashville Predators. Instead, the Ducks brought up Michael Wall, the guy with the best last name for a goalie since Joe Glovesave played in net for the 1967 Toronto Maples Leafs (okay, I made that up.) Leighton, meanwhile, played just 20 minutes in one game for the Preds before he was again put on waivers and claimed by the Flyers in January of 2007.

But that's not where the story ends. Philly placed Leighton on waivers again after four games with them, and he was plucked by Montreal, where he never played a game. The Canadiens (this is getting exhausting) traded him to Carolina, where he played three games in 2007-08, but spent most of the season with Albany of the AHL. That was where he set a league record by making 98 saves out of 101 shots in a playoff game that went five overtimes -- AND LOST.

The next season, Leighton was the backup in Carolina before going down with a leg injury and was again placed on waivers last December, where he was picked up again by the Flyers to back up Brian Boucher while Ray Emery was out with an injury. Leighton played well in Philly's 2-1 overtime defeat to Boston in the Winter Classic at Fenway and remained the No. 1 before going down with an ankle injury in march. Boucher took over for the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs. It was until he was hurt in the middle of Game 5 against Boston that Leighton got back in there. He played most of the 4-0 shutout of the Bs, then won Games 6 and 7 and now has shutout Montreal -- a team that once gave him up for a seventh-round pick in each of the first two games of that series. Suddenly, Michael Leighton, of all people, is being mentioned in the same sentence as Conn Smythe.

And although his road to glory is exhausting just to re-tell, he's hardly the only "who's that" goalie starring in this posteason right now. It's still a fact that you need good goaltending to succeed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it's been proven that you don't necessarily need a star goalie to do it. Among the final four right now of Philly (Leighton), Montreal (Jaroslav Halak), San Jose (Evgeni Nabokov) and Chicago (Antti Niemi), only Nabokov has made an All-Star team. And only Nabokov was the starter for his team at the beginning of this season.  

For that matter, look at your Cup champions since the lockout: Of the Hurricanes (Cam Ward), Ducks (J.S. Giguere), Red Wings (Chris Osgood) and Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury), only Giguere and Osgood have been named All-Stars (and only Osgood made it before winning the Cup). Meanwhile, the Roberto Luongos, Ryan Millers and Martin Brodeurs of the world are watching this thing on TV.

Which is exactly what we'll all continue to do resuming tomorrow night, when these playoffs thankfully go back to a game-every-night format after Games 1 and 2 of both conference finals were held on the same nights because of scheduling quirks. (Despite that, the playoffs remain 482 times better than the NBA tournament, where there will be no games tomorrow night and Friday night, and the Lakers and Suns each had a week off between their second round and third round series.)

Tomorrow night, we'll see if Philly can keep this improbable run going and if Montreal can manage to score a freakin' goal. (Meanwhile, both teams continue to prove that in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it's just get in and anything can happen). Friday night, we'll see if the Blackhawks can improve on their 2-0 lead over the Sharks in Chicago, and ensure that the Ducks (I had to swing the topic back to our guys) remain the only California team ever to lift the chalice.

- - -

The newest edition of ESPN The Magazine (in addition to having a mesmerizing back page ad starring one of my all-time favorites) has a lengthy feature on sports-related traveling that partly focuses on what athletes like to bring with them on the road. Included in the piece are photos of Joffrey Lupul and Bobby Ryan, and their comments how they like to pack their guitars on trips (Ryan apparently being the vocalist of the duo). See below.

Updated May 13 at 2:11 p.m.

There won't be a repeat Stanley Cup champion this year, which doesn't come as a huge surprise since we haven't had one in 12 years. But what is surprising is how it came about this time.

It seemed beyond the realm of imagination to see Montreal racing out to a 4-0 lead and ultimately knocking  off the defending champion Penguins 5-2 in Pittsburgh's building. And it was the last game ever in Mellon Arena, no less, as the Penguins play next year in a brand new building across the street.

Last night's game was of course sold out ... but not just in Mellon Arena. IN MONTREAL. More than 20,000 fans packed the Bell Centre to watch the game ON TV. Think they like hockey much in Montreal?

It's because of that -- ignoring the fact they rioted in the streets after last night's win -- that you've got to be happy for Habs fans, who haven't seen their team win the Cup since 1992-93, when they happened to knock off a certain team up the road in their lone Final appearance.

That also happened to be the last time a Canadian (not just a Canadien) team won the Cup, a drought that could be broken this year, the way the Habs are looking. They've looked like anything but an eighth seed so far in this tournament, something Ducks fans can relate to with the way their team looked last year in that slot. Like that Ducks team, Montreal knocked off a President's Trophy winner in the opening round. Here was an amusing quote from Michael Cammalleri (a member of the Jarome Iginla club of non-Ducks I've always loved) about the Habs: "I don’t claim we’re this great team, I don’t claim we’re perfect and I don’t claim that everything we do is on purpose. I think we’re just finding ways to win."

Interestingly enough, eighth-seeded Montreal's next opponent will either be a six or a seven seed, depending on what happens tomorrow in Game 7 between Boston and Philly. It's a Game 7 that Philly made possible by edging Boston 2-1 last night to take one more step in a comeback from down 3-0 in the series. (Only the 1942 Maple Leafs and 1975 Islanders have won a series after going down 3-0.)

And, in case you didn't already know it, that Game 7 has a major impact on the Ducks, and here's why: The Ducks own the Flyers' first-round draft pick as a result of the Pronger-Lupul-Sbisa trade. Should the Flyers lose tomorrow night, that becomes the No. 15 pick. (It was 16th, but Montreal moved down in the draft by virtue of their victory last night). Should the Flyers win and advance to the conference final, that pick falls between 27th and 30th (depending on what the Flyers do from that point on). So although most people in Orange County would rather root for tooth decay than root for a Boston team, you'll want to do it tomorrow night.

Now, while the bottom three seeds are all still alive in the East, out West things have pretty much fallen into place the way they were supposed to. Top seed San Jose faces No. 2 seed Chicago by virtue of the Blackhawks pasting Vancouver 5-1 two nights ago in their own building. And that was something Canucks fans didn't take too kindly too if you watch this video of a gloating Hawks fan nearly getting drilled by a thrown cup of beer. (Which begs the question, why did someone even have a full beer in their hands after the game was over? Unless they were just saving it for the sole purpose of heaving it. And if that's true, well that's just disrespectful. To beer.)

Anyway, San Jose-Chicago promises to be a heck of a matchup, although I had to Google "when is Game 1 Sharks Blackhawks?" just now to figure out just when the series starts (I'm hearing Sunday at noon Pacific, but that's not official yet).

I'll ask this question, even though I probably know how it will be answered (kind of like a woman asking "Do I look fat in these pants?"). But I'll pose it anyway:

Wait, nevermind. This might be better:

Updated May 10 at 3:05 p.m.

I just want to clear up some confusion among some of those in Ducks fandom regarding impending free agents like Bobby Ryan and James Wisniewski. There are apparently some who think that if their free agents aren't signed by the Ducks, they will get away to other teams -- which is not true. What is true is that the Ducks have to make qualifying offers by the July 1 opening of free agency (and the Ducks will likely do that something between June 15 and that date).

Ryan and Wisniewski are Restricted (also known as Group 2) Free Agents, meaning the Ducks have the right to match any offer that comes from another team after the official opening of free agency on July 1. (That was the case three years ago with Dustin Penner, when the Ducks elected not to match the offer made by Edmonton.) The only difference between Ryan and Wisniewski is that Wisniewski has arbitration rights (which he also did last year, but it never got to that point). If the Ducks and Wisniewski go to arbitration, out of the hearing will come a contract offer the Ducks have the right to walk away from, which would then make him an unrestricted free agent.

Other Restricted Free Agents for the Ducks include Brendan Mikkelson and Kyle Chipchura. 

Meanwhile, among the Ducks Unrestricted Free Agents (meaning the Ducks don't have the right to match) are Scott Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu.

Bottom line is, if those guys aren't signed by the Ducks by July 1, there is no need to worry that they necessarily won't be Ducks next year (and beyond). It's simply just the start of the negotiation process.

Hope that clears things up.

Updated May 6 at 4:28 p.m.

Every spring since the lockout, the Ducks and Honda Center hold a pancake breakfast for their employees to celebrate the beginning of the playoffs. We all know that wasn't an option this year, so instead we had an employee luncheon this afternoon outside the north side of Honda Center.

While the staffers enjoyed a lunch catered by TK Burgers, we were treated to short speeches from bosses Tim Ryan and Michael Schulman, owners Henry and Susan Samueli and GM Bob Murray. Each expressed regret that the event wasn't the typical playoff launch breakfast, while at the same time conveying optimism for this offseason and next year.

The speeches were followed by a raffle for prizes ranging from a car wash to autographed Ducks jerseys to team-signed sticks (I won nothing). The raffle was emceed by Kent French, who was clearly on his game this afternoon, notably when he (playfully) insulted his fellow employees. 

But Frenchie soon showed a weaker side of himself when he took part in the H.O.R.S.E. tournament that followed the lunch, changing into a green pair of basketball shorts that went great with his black dress socks. For me, the tournament brought some good news and bad news. The good news? I finished second. The bad? I lost to a girl.

The tournament began with an opening round in which the field of 27 was broken into three groups -- A, B and C -- with B composed entirely of females. Group A (which I was in) went first, followed by Group B and Group C, all three of which played D.U.X. instead of H.O.R.S.E due to time constraints. Somehow I channeled my slightly above average basketball skills to win Group A (which included our owner), surviving an intense final-two duel with our VP of Human Resources, Jay.

Out of Group B came Melody, the Ducks controller and a mother of two college-aged boys. She continued her hot play into the final against me and the winner of Group C, Gabe from our video production department. Melody (with a little help from me) promptly eliminated Gabe, leaving her and me to go head to head. Despite being behind early, I found a bit of a touch and started to come back, but I soon learned what Rocky felt like when he faced Ivan Drago in Russia in Rocky IV. The only difference was, I never turned the crowd in my favor like he did in the movie. Every time Melody hit a shot, out came a big cheer from the crowd. Every time I attempted a shot, a round of boos.

At one point I asked, "Does anybody want me to win?" and I quietly heard the voice of a buddy of mine saying, "I do." (Later I found out it was only because he got stuck with me in a gambling pool.)

And soon Melody did the same to me that she had done with everyone else in the tournament. With the score tied at H.O.R.S., I tried to match her made shot from the right wing. I launched it dead on target, but it felt a little short as it left my hand. I soon watched it bounce twice on the front rim ... and fall away, much to the delight of the crowd. 

Melody, as you can see in this photo, won a cool little trophy as well as a certificate for a car detailing. (Looking at this photo, maybe she won because she didn't wear sunglasses like the two idiots on the ends.) I came away with Lakers preseason tickets and a Ducks t-shirt that (despite the cheeseburger meal) is going to need some serious shrinking. Meanwhile, I've been called "loser" and "second place" for pretty much the rest of the day. (My father, whom I emailed to tell him the story of my defeat, emailed me back with a word I can't repeat here.)

You gotta love this place sometimes.

Updated April 28 at 2:57 p.m.

We've got a Game 7 in the East tonight before we're officially through one round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while the West wrapped up its opening series with a Game 7 of its own last night.

Although, it wasn't as compelling a deciding game as one might have hoped, and brought an unfortunate end to one of the feel-good stories of this campaign. The Phoenix Coyotes, a team with a shaky ownership situation and an uncertain future as to where it will play its home games, nearly continued an improbable run that saw them make their first postseason since the lockout. But a 6-1 trouncing at the hands of the Red Wings last night unfortunately brought a magical season to an inglorious close.

In case you weren't watching, Detroit pretty much put the game away during a sequence late in the second period that started with the Coyotes failing to convert on a lengthy 5-on-3. That disappointment was confounded when the Wings snuck in a goal with just seconds left in the period as a fresh-out-of-the-box Brad Stuart got the puck off the wall on a breakaway and threw it off Ilya Bryzgalov into the net.

A period prior, Bryzgalov was pretty much singlehandedly carrying the Coyotes, shooing away all 17 Detroit shots in the first. But Bryzgalov couldn't hold off the Wings forever last night, and they showed that no matter what seed they are, no matter how much they struggled at certain points of this season, the Red Wings are still the Red Wings.

When time finally, mercifully ran out on that game last night, there was a bit of a goosebump moment following the handshake line. Many of the white-clad Coyotes fans in that sold out crowd stuck around to watch it all, repeatedly chanting "Let's go, Coy-otes!" one last time. When all the hands were shaken, the Coyotes players skated around the rink, sticks raised in the air to salute those fans.

"I think the players deserve that, they put a lot of work in," coach Dave Tippett (who just has to be coach of the year this season) told Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic. "It’s funny, as much as those fans were cheering, our players were cheering for the fans, because again, where we were in September and where we are right now is a big difference. I think the fans recognize that, and I think the players recognize that. It’s a mutual respect that hopefully we can continue here."

And let's hope here means Phoenix next season and beyond.

For now, the Red Wings move on to face the San Jose Sharks second-round matchup that, for Ducks fans, has to be like choosing between hospital food and airline food. It's hard to pick a team to root for in this one, though I personally lean slightly toward the Sharks. But I'm curious what you think, Ducks fans:

It's a little belated, but I wanted to show this video of Eric Belanger of Washington taking a stick to the mouth in Game 5 of the Caps-Habs series (be careful, the video is not for the faint of heart). Belanger is seen in the video PULLING OUT ONE OF HIS OWN TEETH and handing it to a trainer on the bench. He lost eight teeth in all and had some major dental work done in the locker room, including getting exposed roots trimmed (it makes me squeamish just writing that). Through all that, he returned to the game midway through the third period.

"I knew I was in trouble, but what are you going to do?: Belanger said. "It's the playoffs."

God I love hockey.

Updated April 22 at 3:16 p.m.

It's an analogy that's been made in this space before, but it bears repeating -- for Ducks fans, watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs right now is like watching your ex-girlfriend make out with another guy.

But if you can get past the fact that Anaheim isn't a part of the festivities this year, the 2010 playoffs are once again a hell of a ride and continues to make its case as the greatest tournament in all of pro sports. That's especially true in the Western Conference, where three of the four series are tied at two games apiece.

That includes Sharks-Avs, where San Jose came very close two nights ago of going down 3-1 in that series and being ejected in the first round for the second straight season. (Can't remember who did it to them last year ... Let me Google it.) A Joe Pavelski goal halfway into the first overtime of Game 4 instead sent the series back to San Jose tied 2-2. 

Ah, Stanley Cup Playoff overtime. Is there anything better in sports? I mean, really? Nine games have already gone into OT this postseason and we're only halfway through the first stanza (as one writer put it: nine reasons why the playoffs have been like hockey crack rock to puckheads so far). Both of the first two games of the Vancouver-L.A. series went into "free hockey" time, a series in which I imagine a few Ducks fans have become monster Canucks fans. Let's just say that when Twin (my name during the games for either Henrik or Daniel Sedin, just to avoid confusion) scored the game-winner late in regulation last night, there were probably a few shouts around these parts that are normally reserved for games involving the black and gold.

The Canucks looked like they too were in danger of heading home down 3-1 last night, as the Kings looked clearly like the better team over the first two periods. And Roberto Luongo, who has already been pulled once in this series, continues to try and shake the label that he's not a playoff goalie, not to mention a guy who has struggled since leading Team Canada to gold. (The traditional adage is that it takes great goaltending to win a Cup, but I read a stat the other day that I found very interesting. Since the lockout, just one Cup winner ranked in the top 10 in regular season save percentage -- the 2007 Ducks.)

Oh, and another reason to like the Canucks? The green men.

So I would imagine I speak for most Ducks fans when I say I'm pulling for the Nucks and the Avs, yet when it comes to the other series involving a division rival, I'm definitely going in the other direction. It's just hard to dislike the Phoenix Coyotes, a team that despite facing the Ducks six times a year has yet to establish a fierce rivalry with Anaheim. (That's partly because up until this year they didn't present a major challenge for the post-lockout Ducks). They're also a team that has been inspiring to watch this year, since they went into the season with a shaky ownership situation and some uncertainty about where they would be playing their games, and still rolled to a fourth-place finish in the West. They're a team with the likeable Ilya Bryzgalov in net. And most of all, they're a team facing the Detroit Red Wings.     

As for the other series in the West, I've had a hard time cozying up to Chicago-Nashville, though I lean toward Chicago because I love the direction that city has taken when it comes to the Hawks the last few seasons. I'm surprised so far that Nashville has a 2-1 lead over Chicago right now, since I counted Nashville among the playoff teams I thought the non-playoff Ducks were better than. 

On the Eastern side of things, I'll admit I haven't been paying as much attention as I have the West. But there is one series that Ducks fans should keep an eye on -- Philly-New Jersey. And no, it's not because two prominent former Ducks -- Pronger in Philly and Rob Niedermayer in NJ -- are involved. It's because the Ducks own the Flyers' first-round pick as part of the Pronger-Lupul-Sbisa trade, a pick that currently resides at 16th and would go lower in the round should the Flyers roll deep into the postseason.

But as far as the teams we see the most, I want to know who you're rooting for, Ducks fans:

Updated April 13 at 4:38 p.m.

Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf spent seven hours today shooting different scenes for a segment that is going to air during the NHL Awards in June. Here are a few photos from their last couple of scenes:

Ryan and Getzlaf get in some laughs during a scene involving a Fudgesicle eating contest.

Ryan checks some voicemail between takes. (For some reason, I find this photo very funny.)

Getzlaf enjoying a drumstick between takes.

Getzlaf getting ready for a scene that involves bringing Ryan some cupcakes.

Ryan and Getzlaf had to do some portrait painting on the ice for one scene. That's Ryan's on the left, for which he told me, "You've got to get this in your blog." Believe it or not, that's supposed to be a giraffe at the bottom of Bobby's painting. 

This scene somehow involves the act of getting pants tailored turning into standing on an Olympic medal stand.

Even after seven hours or shooting, Bobby was more than happy to pose for this picture.

Updated April 12 at 1:48 p.m.

In a way it had a lot of similarities to three years ago: The Ducks dominated a Canadian team to win its last game of the season, which was followed by skating around the rink to salute the fans, led by Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, two guys who may or may not retire this summer.

Okay, it's a reach, because we all know this one was a whole lot different. Three years ago, the Ducks skated around the rink with a Stanley Cup held over their heads. This time they simply raised the sticks they used in a 7-2 victory that put the finishing touches on a disappointing season in Anaheim.

If anything, last night's game left us with this thought -- Why couldn't we win more games like that this season? Unfortunately, most of the rest of the conference is made up of tough-to-beat opponents, proven by the fact that Colorado finished eighth at 95 points when 91 was enough for the Ducks to nab that spot last year.

For at least a night though, the Ducks looked like world-beaters, matching a season high with seven goals -- two from Ryan Carter, who had just two goals entering the game and joked this morning, "I was saving it all up for last night." And Teemu Selanne, playing in what may or may not be his last NHL game, did what he does best. Selanne wristed in a power play goal just 16 seconds into the second period for the 606th of his career, the 27th of his season in just 54 games. (Yeah, that averages out to 40 in an 82-game season. Just saying.) Throughout the night, passionate chants of "One more year!" rose from the Honda Center, aimed at the still-undecided Selanne and Niedermayer. 

It was the kind of night that made it somewhat easier to forget what a frustrating season this has been. At the same time, it was fun enough to make you wish you could watch this team play hockey just a little while longer.

It's hard to believe the team that had the eighth-best second half record in the NHL is starting its summer right now, but the Ducks' rough start to the season buried them in a hole that proved too much to climb out of. “The second half of the year, we’ve been a pretty good hockey team,” Bob Murray told the OC Register yesterday. “In saying that, obviously we have to do something about our starts. Something has got to change down there. Our start in four of the last five years has been awful.”

Today was the traditionally somber day when the players make their last visit to Honda Center for the season, getting their final physicals, meeting with coaches, talking to media and signing autographs on what seemed like miles of jerseys, pucks, pictures and hats laid out first thing this morning by our Community Relations staff. By far the biggest pile belonged to Selanne, and you couldn't help but wonder if he was doing this in these hallways for the last time.

We caught about 10 Ducks for video interviews as they walked out the door, which are being posted throughout the day on our Facebook page

As for Niederlanne, we face the same question we've faced for each of the previous three summers -- will they or won't they? Selanne, who has had to answer that question in a thousand different ways the past few days, had this to say last night:  "It's both sides. I would like to be more with the family and do things you don't get to do. Same hand, you only have one career. So far I've been thinking I'll keep playing as long as I'm enjoying this game.

"Even two months ago, with the injuries, I thought the hockey gods were telling me, ‘It's time.' If you had asked me two months ago, it would have been easy to think, ‘This is it.’ But the way we have played since then, after I got healthy, it’s been so much fun.”

And Niedermayer said his decision, one way or another, will come quickly. "You think a lot about the pluses and minuses of playing the game and not playing," Niedermayer said. "It probably comes down to just a feeling you have."

More than next year, wins like the one last night and second-half finishes like the one the Ducks had this year make guys like Niedermayer and Selanne wonder why they aren't playing more hockey this year. "We are way too good of a team," Selanne said, "to miss the playoffs."

But, while 16 NHL teams are getting ready for their first round series, all we can do is look ahead to next year. And it wouldn't be a Ducks offseason without plenty of questions in the air, in addition to those surrounding 8 and 27. Will Bobby Ryan get re-signed (almost a certainty, according to Bob Murray). Will Saku Koivu? Will James Wisniewski? What about Sheldon Brookbank and Aaron Ward? What will the Ducks do to shore up that defense. What will they do to ensure they don't start 2010-11 like they started this season? What will they do in the draft?

Ah, yes, it promises to be another fun-filled Ducks summer. It's just too bad it had to start in mid-April.

Updated April 9 at 11:34 a.m.

They call these games between two teams eliminated from the postseason "meaningless." But last night's contest between the Ducks and Stars was anything but.

If you'll allow a moment to show some respect to a longtime Ducks rival, last night was a pretty special one for the Stars and their fans. In all likelihood, it was the last home game for 39-year-old Mike Modano, the all-time leader in goals among American-born players who is probably retiring at the end of this season. During a break in the action with about five minutes left in the third period, Stars fans gave Mike Modano a three-minute standing ovation, during which Modano became noticeably emotional. Ducks rival or not, watch this video and see if it doesn't get a little dusty in the room.

During the ovation, all of the Ducks stood and stick-tapped at their bench, a gesture that was clearly noticed and appreciated by Stars fans. This morning we got a handful of emails that said things like this:

I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Anaheim Ducks for their great sportsmanship on 04/08/2010 at the game in Dallas. Thank you for being there with us. It was a great night in Stars history ... I can't even guess what it was like on the Ducks bench given the histeria of the Stars, ovations to Mo, Jere and Marty, and more to Mo ... Again, thank you to each player, coach and Duck staff person who was there. It was a once in a lifetime for me. I wish such an impressive, rewarding event to each of you in your careers. Thank you.

Thanks to your team and organization for the tremendous game last night and the class and sportsmanship your team showed.  You have gained a fan in Texas. See you next year!

As a Stars fan I want to pass along my appreciation to the Ducks for the classy way they handled Thursday night's tribute to Mike Modano. It was an emotional night for Dallas fans and the Ducks players stood and applauded Modano along with the fans. Outstanding. You have my respect and appreciation. Good luck next season!

I can't even imagine what it was like in the building when Modano scored a tip-in goal to tie the game with 1:47 left in regulation, as the guy who has more career points than any other Ducks opponent killed them again. The goal could have been taken away for being scored with a high stick, but as Stars color guy Daryl "Razor" Reaugh said on the telecast, "The officials are together at center ice. I don't think any of them want to review it. I don't even know that the Ducks want to."

Said Modano, "Maybe they threw me a farewell bone there."

Of course, they didn't overturn it, and Modano also came through in the shootout, along with Jere Lehtinen and goalie Marty Turco, all of whom were likely playing their last home games for the Stars. That finished off a Ducks team that was playing without a lot of its big guns. Although, two of Anaheim's stars that were on the ice last night came through in a big way. Jonas Hiller, playing for the first time since suffering back spasms before a home game against Dallas on March 29, was nearly unbeatable in stopping a season-high 49 shots. (Said Hiller of Modano, I’m not even mad at him for scoring that goal. It might have been a high stick or whatever. But it was definitely a good game to play.”) Meanwhile, Bobby Ryan had two goals (his team-leading 33rd and 34th), the last a go-ahead strike on the power play late in the third period.

And by the way, since he was a kid, Ryan has worn number 9. You know why? Because of Mike Modano.

Ducks fans are facing something similar to what Stars fans are going through with Modano, although with a little less certainty. We still don't know whether Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer are coming back next season, but you can bet each of them will get some love when they play their last games of the season Sunday against Edmonton at Honda Center. Whether it's their swan songs or not, I would imagine Ducks fans want to give them just a little reminder of how fun it is to play here.

Updated April 8 at 10:42 a.m.

It's weird enough the Ducks are playing their first non-preseason game since the lockout that doesn't have playoff implications. Even weirder they're doing it against a Dallas Stars team that's also out of the playoffs (albeit for a second straight season).

Meanwhile, the Ducks are playing this one and the next one without a good chunk of their team. Scott Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne, Saki Koivu and Todd Marchant are not on the trip for tonight's game in Dallas and tomorrow's game in St. Louis. With the team officially eliminated from the postseason, the Ducks are resting those four (three of whom played in the Olympics) and getting a better look at some of the younger guys. Those four are, however, expected to play in the season finale on Sunday against Edmonton at Honda Center. “I would say it’s probable those players will be in the lineup Sunday,” Randy Carlyle said this morning.

Ryan Getzlaf is also not on the trip as he continues to heal that sprained ankle and Lubomir Visnovsky has been shelved for the year after injuring his hand Tuesday night. He'll have surgery Friday. Jonas Hiller is with the team, but no word on when he might make an appearance.

From the Stars' standpoint, I was just shocked to read that their loss Tuesday ensured they will not have a winning streak longer than two games this whole season.  Wow. Tonight is their final home game, which means it's likely the last home appearance for Mike Modano and Marty Turco. The 39-year-old Modano is comtemplating retirement, while Turco is a free agent this summer and doesn't appear likely to be re-signed.

Updated April 7 at 11:22 a.m.

Let the record show that the 2009-10 season for the Ducks ended at approximately 9:38 p.m. Pacific time last night, some 1,300 miles north of Anaheim.

That's the time of night that Matt Duchene's shootout attempt hit twine, giving the Colorado Avalanche a 4-3 victory over the Canucks that locked up a postseason bid for the Avs and officially eliminated the Ducks.

At the time, the Ducks were in the middle of a shootout with the Kings that they never should have been in, and one they would ultimately lose. I happened to be turning back and forth between watching that shootout and peaking at Colorado-Vancouver on my laptop. Right after Teemu Selanne came up empty in his attempt in Anaheim, Duchene's found the net in Vancouver, and that's when it hit me: 

We're finished.  

Not to overdramatize it, but Anaheim's official elimination is kind of like watching a car crash or -- in hockey terms -- watching a replay of a blindside hit. You can see it coming from a mile away, but when it happens, it's still jolting. It still makes you want to look away.

And that's the way this one feels. The Ducks appeared to be out of it so many times in the past couple of months, and so many times we were feeling, It just isn't our year. There were the consecutive losses at Calgary and Vancouver two weeks ago that left the Ducks 11 points back. Before that, there was the five-game losing streak after the Olympic break. And before that, a rocky first two months of the season that had Anaheim crawling out of a hole virtually the whole season.

But the Ducks kept hope alive, kept teasing us with the kind of second half they've been known for the past few years. Before last night, they were 22-12-2 in the second half, one of the best marks in the league. They went 8-2-1 in their last 11, 4-0-1 in their last five and woke up Sunday morning just four points back of the eighth spot. But even then, we had to know it would take a miracle to get in, and last night the inevitable finally became harsh reality.

It wasn't the game that officially cooked the Ducks, but last night's loss to the dreaded Kings was pretty much a microcosm of 2009-10 for Anaheim. At times, they looked like a playoff team -- as in the one that skated, forechecked and grinded its way to a 4-1 lead. At other times, they played tentatively, as in the one that was on its heels in the third period, appearing more to try and protect its lead rather than play the type of game that built that cushion in the first place. As a result, the Ducks had just two shots in the entire third period, giving the Kings enough opportunities in the Anaheim zone to eventually tie the score (the final dagger coming with just over a minute remaining). In the five minutes of overtime, when the Ducks returned to the form they showed in those first two periods, they fired on net seven times. 

But they couldn't find the net in that overtime, and while Corey Perry converted to lead off the shootout, Teemu Selanne (two goals in the game) and Saku Koivu (leading a still-sizzling second line) came up empty. And as Anze Kopitar approached the puck for his try in the third round (mere minutes after the Colorado win) you almost knew he was going to find the net.

Again, it wasn't the game that officially knocked the Ducks out, but you look back on that one and think there were just too many of those types of games this year for Anaheim. Too many times they played two good periods but not a third. Too many times they let leads slip away in the home stretch. Too many times they lost games they should have won. 

“Today was a game that was very similar to many that we’ve played this year,” Scott Niedermayer said.

And as a result, we now see how the other half lives. Hopefully we realize this -- we've been pretty spoiled by this team, haven't we? Consider what they've done since the lockout: Four straight postseasons, more playoff games played than any other team in the league other than Detroit, two conference finals berths and, of course, a Stanley Cup.

This morning I was exchanging emails with a friend who works for the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that has made the postseason once since the lockout, getting swept in the first round. He wrote this: I just want to experience a playoff win. Not even a series win or a Cup win. Just a game.

Around here, we definitely know what that feels like, and if anything, that kind of success makes us want more -- makes us expect more. And although the Western Conference has become incredibly competitive, are there still teams among the top eight that aren't as good as the Ducks? I think so. But for a million different reasons, it just wasn't to be.

Last night in a quiet Ducks locker room, Todd Marchant again put things in perspective. "It’s been five years now since some of us have had this feeling," said Marchant, who was a part of all four of those playoff teams. "It’s not a lot of fun. It’s a year that has gone by in your career and your life that you have to start all over again. You have to start focusing on training camp, working out in the summer and coming back in better shape. We gave up too many points and too many games early on in the year. It’s tough. This is an awful feeling I’ve only had a handful of times in my career. It is definitely a bitter taste that sits in your mouth all summer."
But before that early summer comes around, the Ducks have three more games, which for the first time in five years have no bearing on their playoff hopes. It's not easy right now, but instead of lamenting that, let's appreciate what this team has given us over the past few years. Let's appreciate what they gave us over the past few weeks. Let's savor the fact that we're one of the few lucky teams that has built enough of a reputation and a winning tradition that missing the playoffs is considered unacceptable.

And as we get closer to what promises to be another interesting summer for the Anaheim Ducks, you can bet this team will do everything in its power to make sure a year from now we don't feel this way again.

Updated April 6 at 2:48 p.m.

The Ducks may very well be eliminated from the playoff race, and it may very well happen tonight.

Just not in this house, please. Not against that team.

While the Ducks are battling the Kings for the second straight game tonight in Anaheim, the Avalanche will be taking on the Canucks up in Vancouver. Should the Avs win that game, that's it for the Ducks. If they fall to the Kings, that's also it for the Ducks. 

Ideally, we'd like neither of those things to happen. But if one of them has to, let's hope the Ducks' fate is decided 1,300 miles north of Anaheim (thank you, Google Maps) and not in a loss to the hated Kings.

At the same time, no matter what happens tonight or in the next few days, the fact we're even having this conversation is only because of what the Ducks have done in the last week and a half, turning an 11-point deficit on March 26 into six points right now. Not to mention, their 15 points in the last 10 games is better than all but one team (the red-hot Wings) in the West. Since January 5, Anaheim's winning percentage is fourth-best in the NHL.

L.A. clinched a playoff berth -- the first since 2002, I can't stress enough -- on Sunday when Calgary lost at Chicago (a game that sort of helped the Ducks, but not enough). But the Kings are still playing for something tonight, not the least of which is the chance to turn out the lights for their bitter rivals. (If you think that doesn't matter, then you don't know Kings fans.) Also, L.A. is currently in seventh and facing a possible first-round matchup against Chicago, so they would love to climb the standings and nab a sixth or possibly fifth spot.

Meanwhile, here's why the Ducks need to win all of their next four and need Colorado to fail in their next four. A win for the Avs gives them 93 points, which is the maximum the Ducks (currently at 85) can get. Even if they caught Colorado at 93, the Avs win the tiebreaker by virtue of the fact the would have one more victory than Anaheim. The second tiebreaker, should both teams end up with the same number of wins, is head-to-head record, which the Ducks own with a 3-1 record against Colorado this season (another reason why it's maddening they're in eighth and the Ducks are not).

The Ducks will be again without Jonas Hiller and Ryan Getzlaf, both of whom haven't played since March 24 in Vancouver, and that includes Anaheim's shootout victory over these Kings last Saturday night.

Now let's just hope the Ducks can take them down again tonight. And if they don't get the help they need from up north, so be it.

Just not in this house. Not against that team.

Updated April 5 at 11:34 a.m.

No matter what happens over the next few days for the Anaheim Ducks, we can thank one guy for helping to pique our interest the last few games. 

"At least," that guy said late Saturday night, "we’re making it exciting right now.”

More to the point, you're making it exciting right now, Saku Koivu.

The veteran center, whom no one on the Ducks roster has outworked this season, came through with clutch goals for Anaheim on consecutive nights over the weekend, helping them earn points they badly needed in what has become a desperate run for a playoff spot. And although his late goal Friday night was spoiled in a shootout loss to Vancouver, the very next night in L.A., Koivu won it himself with the only conversion in the tiebreaker.

Granted, it's not all Koivu, as Saturday night a number of Ducks (including goalie Curtis McElhinney) ensured Anaheim stayed in the game to set up the game-tying goal and eventual shootout winner. It all led to a satisfying victory the Ducks virtually stole from the rival Kings, as Anaheim got little going offensively until Koivu roofed in a rebound with 1:32 left and the Ducks skating 6-on-4 following a Kings penalty and a pulled goalie. And unlike the night before when Vancouver converted twice, McElhinney was very solid in the shootout, stopping all three Kings shootout attempts to set the stage for Koivu to go deke-right-deke-left-top-shelf and polish off the win. Here's that goal from one Ducks fans' perspective. (Excuse the shoddy camera work after the puck hits the twine. After all, a guy's gotta cheer.) 

Koivu, by the way, is a respectable 12 of 28 all time in shootouts, and Randy Carlyle said he should have turned to Koivu the night before when all three Ducks failed to convert in the shootout. “To tell you the truth, I should have used him with the game that he had,” Carlyle said. “We felt that he’s probably been our most gritty player and our most consistent player here over the last little while, so it makes sense for him to go.”

Saturday's shootout winner was a fitting moment for a guy who has virtually put the Ducks (or at least that sizzling second line) on his back the last few games. The 35-year-old has a jaw-dropping eight points (4 goals, 4 helpers) and a plus-5 rating in the last three games, numbers that look nice but don't even begin to tell the story of how hard he's battled on every shift.  It's a big reason the Ducks went 4-0-1 over the last five games to wake up yesterday morning just four points out of the eighth playoff spot co-owned by Colorado and Calgary.

But alas, things got a little bleaker for Anaheim as Sunday wore on. When Calgary lost at Chicago in the afternoon, it kept the Ducks within four of the Flames, but clinched a playoff spot for the rival Kings for the first time since 2002. And with the Ducks desperately needing a Colorado loss in regulation against San Jose, the Sharks didn't help matters by losing in overtime, despite erasing a two-goal deficit in the third period. (It was a little awkward watching that game on the Center Ice package yesterday evening, rooting hard for the Sharks. Shouting "Yes!" following a Patrick Marleau goal is not something I'm all that comfortable with.)

This week is always the best one on the sports calendar (national championship game, baseball opening days, the Masters, pivotal hockey games), but it could very well be a tough one for the Ducks. But no matter what happens in the coming days, it's pretty encouraging that Anaheim has managed to shave five points off the deficit from eighth place in the last five games, a number that was 11 as recently as March 26. In all the Ducks have gone 22-12-2 in the second half and 8-1-1 in the last 11 to get into the playoff conversation.

That being said, it could be all for naught as soon as tomorrow night if Colorado wins in Vancouver or the Ducks lose at home to the Kings. That would officially eliminate the Ducks. Then again, if Vancouver wins and the Ducks knock off the Kings, they're still in it.

"We know that every game is like Game 7 for us and we’re just trying to keep ourselves alive," Todd Marchant said. "We’ve had a couple of heroes the last couple of nights and that’s kind of how our season has gone. We get hot for a while and cold for a while and right now we’re back on the winning streak and hope it can continue for the next four games.”

Those four games come against the Kings at home, Dallas and St. Louis on the road and Edmonton at home on the regular season's final day. The way the Ducks have gotten it going in the last week and a half, there's no reason they can't win all of them. Now if some other teams would cooperate, there could be a chance ("so you're telling me there's a chance") those next four games aren't the last four of this Ducks season.

Updated April 2 at 12:58 p.m.

The question for tonight is, Are the Ducks facing an angry Vancouver team or a stumbling Vancouver team?

Maybe a little bit of both.

The Canucks, looking to clinch a playoff spot, were embarrassed last night in Los Angeles during an 8-3 trouncing by the Kings at Staples Center. Roberto Luongo was left in there for all eight goals, the most he has given up since he let in six here at Honda Center on October 31 of 2008. (You might remember the Canucks won that Halloween game in a 13-round shootout.) 

Luongo left the locker room without taking questions from the media last night, but felt compelled to apologize this morning and actually released this statement: "As a team we should be embarrassed with the way we played tonight from the first guy, which is me, all the way out to the last guy. It's unacceptable to play this way."

Luongo won't have a chance himself to bounce back tonight, as the Vancouver Sun is reporting that backup Andrew Raycroft will be in net. It's the third time in four games the Ducks have faced Raycroft, and it's also the third time the Canucks have had to face Anaheim in the second of a back-to-back. The Ducks have won two of the previous three games, including the one Luongo started, Dec. 16 in Vancouver.

(By the way, the Ducks play at Los Angeles tomorrow, making that the third time in three games in L.A. this season where the Ducks are playing the second of a back-to-back.)

Last night the Canucks were without their second-leading scorer Daniel Sedin (twin bro Henrik leads the NHL with 105 points), who missed the game with back spasms, is a game-time decision tonight. That's also the status for Alex Burrows, who went through a scary moment last night when he was struck in the neck by a Jarret Stoll slap shot in the first period and suffered a bruised throat. Burrows has 35 goals for the Canucks this season.

Meanwhile, if you're still a Shane O'Brien fan from his days as a Ducks rookie, you won't be seeing him tonight. Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault announced Tuesday that O'Brien won't be with the team the rest of the week because of a number of incidents, the latest of which involved him showing up at 10:55 for an 11 a.m. practice Monday.

"Obviously, there is more to this than just yesterday's incident," Vigneault said. "So we've got a plan for Shane O'Brien. He will not be practicing or be with the team until Sunday. His situation then will be reevaluated. It's not a suspension. We have got a plan for him, a special program."

That doesn't sound like all that much fun.

Shifting focus to the Ducks, both Ryan Getzlaf and Jonas Hiller will be out of the lineup again tonight, with Curtis McElhinney getting the start in goal and Nick Bonino likely taking Getzlaf's center spot again. Both Hiller and Getzlaf are doubtful tomorrow night in L.A. as well.

Hiller hasn't played since last Wednesday at Vancouver and was scratched when he felt twinges in his back before the warmup Sunday against Dallas. He told reporters yesterday that “Two days have already helped. I felt way better [Wednesday]. I pretty much have my range back."

Hiller has been doing as much as he can in the gym the past few days. "For every moment, you kind of feel it," he said. "I don’t want to rush it and do unnecessary quick movements on the ice.”

While Ducks-Canucks is going on tonight, keep one eye at Calgary-Colorado, which starts an hour earlier at 6 p.m. Pacific time. The Ducks are seven behind Colorado's eighth spot and five behind Calgary's ninth slot (with a game in hand on the Flames). If Calgary beats Colorado in regulation tonight and the Ducks keep winning like they have, there is an outside shot (an outside shot) the Ducks get into this race. (But let's leave that alone for the time being.)

In the Ducks locker room following the morning skate, the flat screen was showing a replay of last night's Canucks-Kings game, and the postgame show had come on. I was standing next to Troy Bodie when he pointed to the screen laughing and said, "Hey, did you see this?"

I looked up to see Patrick O'Neal talking to the camera with a rather amusing sign held up behind his head by an obviously bitter Kings fan.

Gotta love it.

Updated April 1 at 11:41 a.m.

You look at last night's game a couple different ways. One, you're glad the Ducks won handily, giving them seven victories in their last nine games. At the same time, you shake your head and think, Why aren't we where the Colorado Avalanche are right now?

Anaheim's 5-2 victory over Colorado (currently hanging by a fingernail to that eighth slot) was the third for the Ducks over the Avs in four games this year. (The only loss came March 3 at Honda Center when a 2-0 Ducks lead turned into a 4-3 loss and started that five-game losing streak out of the Olympic break.) I don't think there is any doubt the Ducks are the better team, especially considering they won last night without their top goalie (Hiller), their best forward (Getzlaf) and took down a desperate Colorado team looking for a much-needed win. And in its own rink, no less. Colorado, which needs wins more than ever right now, has dropped six of the last seven.

But here the Ducks are, seven points back of Colorado with six games to go. And hey, if the Ducks win these next six (and the way they're playing, why not?) and Colorado and Calgary stumble in their final games, the Ducks could ...

... let's just leave that alone for now.

Instead we'll focus on an incredibly satisfying win that had a lot to like. In fact, where do we even start? Probably with Teemu Selanne, since that's usually the more popular choice. The Flash got his seemingly long-awaited 601st goal -- tying Jari Kurri for most all-time among Finnish players -- early in the third period on a quick wrister on the breakaway that was vintage Selanne. Watch the video and notice the Avs play-by-play guy's voice rise when he says "SELANNE!" and fall when he mutters "scores."

And since you don't get a lot of pictures of guys in suits holding up hockey pucks, here's one.

That goal was yet another major milestone for Selanne, and was also part of a monster night for that second line of him, Saku Koivu and Jason Blake -- a line that averages about 36 1/2 years old. (Not that that's old. IT'S NOT OLD, OKAY?!)

Selanne and Koivu were each plus-five on the night (as were Scott Niedermayer and Steve Eminger, all tying a club record). Blake, meanwhile had five points but was only (only) a plus-4 since he came off before Eminger scored that first goal (with Blake getting the second assist for the dump-in). He's just the sixth player in Ducks history to notch five points in a night. It wasn't until last night that it really showed up on the scoresheet, but Blake, if you haven't noticed, has been absolutely killing it lately.

I love this photo taken after Blake's third period goal, not just for Blake's celebration but for the reaction of the crowd behind the glass. You've got the one Ducks fan standing up and cheering, and the chick in the Avs sweater in front of him appearing absolutely bewildered, while her friend looks miserable. I'm guessing they both hated that guy behind them before the night was through. 

And it might have gotten lost in Anaheim's five-goal barrage, but Curtis McElhinney played a heck of a game last night in place of Jonas Hiller, who didn't make the trip to the Rockies with back spasms. On paper, McElhinney's 27 saves don't indicate a monster night, but he made a number of big stops during some periods of time when the Avs were controlling play. That included a stop of Cody McLeod late in the first on a breakaway try that would have tied the game 1-1, and one on a point blank one-timer by Darcy Tucker Band early in the second that would have cut into Anaheim's 2-0 lead.

McElhinney didn't get a ton of opportunities in Calgary behind workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff, but he's proven very solid when the Ducks have needed him the past few games.

So here we are, six games to go, the Ducks needing a serious sprint to the finish, while also needing some serious help from around the league. But as Randy Carlyle put it last night, there's only one team they can worry about right now.

"We just have to win," he said. "It's all a moot point if we don't win. We know it's a slim chance, but we're just going to try and win."

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