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Ducks vs. Avalanche PREVIEW: Let The Wins Begin To Snowball

Anaheim hopes to gain ground in the West with another pivotal conference matchup.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Anaheim Ducks Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Game #79

Sunday, April 1st, 6:00PM PST

Honda Center

TV: Prime Ticket

Radio: AM 830

The Enemy: Mile High Hockey

If I was told that the Anaheim Ducks would be facing the Colorado Avalanche with four games left and both teams fighting for a wildcard spot, I would think it was a lame April Fool’s joke. But here we are at the final home stretch of the regular season and both teams are in must-win mode to salvage any chance of a playoff berth. For Anaheim, it’s a bit of a disappointment fighting for a wildcard spot considering they were early favorites to win the Pacific Division. For Colorado, it’s a incredible turnaround after the Avalanche finished the 2017 regular season with the NHL’s worst record with 48-points.

The Ducks are fresh off a hard fought 2-1 overtime victory against their cross-town rival Los Angeles Kings. The Ducks were able to play a full 60-minute game and then some, in what was also a must-win matchup. Gibson was his usual stellar self making 28 saves, while Nick Ritchie and Rickard Rakell provided the firepower for Anaheim. The win lifted the Ducks into 7th place of the Western Conference with a 1-point lead on both St. Louis and Colorado and only 1-point out of 6th place behind Los Angeles.

The Avalanche are coming off a solid victory of their own, a 5-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks. However, the victory came at a great cost. Goaltender, Semyon Varlamov suffered a lower-body injury as Blackhawk’s Tomas Jurco slid into him. Varlamov has been ruled out for the rest of the season which is a huge blow for the Avalanche. The Ducks will face off against a familiar foe as Jonathan Bernier will now be the leading netminder. Bernier has had a successful season thus far posting a .913 save-percentage. Not only will Colorado be without their starting goalie for the rest of the season, but they were also dealt another crushing blow as they’ve been informed that their top defensemen, Erik Johnson, will miss the next six weeks with a fractured patella.

All Eyes On Me

In his last 15 games, Rickard Rakell has 18-points (10 goals, 8 assists). His goal against the Kings in overtime was a thing of beauty. He was able to create separation and use the defender as a screen while shooting the puck between the defender’s legs, which caught Jonathan Quick by surprise and greatly helped Anaheim’s playoff chances.

John Gibson is 6-1-1 with a 1.85 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage in his last 8 games. Gibson has been by far been the team’s MVP this season. His play in net is the reason the Ducks still have a hold of a playoff spot this late in the season. Expect him to come up big yet again in a critical matchup.

Keys To The Game

For Anaheim to win this game, they need to bring the same level of intensity they did against Los Angeles. With crushing injuries to Colorado, the Ducks need to attack the net early and often. As all Duck’s fans know, Bernier isn’t unbeatable. If he can be rattled early on, the Ducks should come away victorious. It will, however, take another full 60-minute effort. The Ducks need to cycle the puck as they did against Los Angeles and control the play.

Special teams will also play a significant part. Both the Avalanche and the Ducks have solid PK-units which rank 3rd and 4th respectfully. However, the Ducks are the inferior team when it comes to the power play success. Anaheim ranks 23rd in the league on the man-advantage whereas Colorado ranks 11th. The Ducks need to remain disciplined and not take any of their signature boneheaded penalties.

Overall, this should be a very hard-fought game between two talented teams. It should turnout to be very physical, which plays into Anaheim’s style of play. I expect both teams to generate solid scoring chances, but when you have John Gibson in net, with how well he’s been playing, I would put my money on the Ducks to skate away victorious.