Yes, I'm a little biased, but the Ducks are looking good.
As a fan for more years than I can count, this has been one of the best seasons I have seen. And that includes Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003.
From the start of this season, the Ducks were favored by analysts to win it all, an expectation I'm sure the team would cringe at. Don't count your Duck eggs before they hatch.
But our Duck eggs are what brought us here, with the young guys like Penner, Perry and Getzlaf (known as the PPG unit) racking a good amount of points along side veteran forwards Teemu Selanne and Andy McDonald. The team finished for the first time in franchise history with five different players with 25 goals each. And it didn't hurt them to have two top defenseman -- Chris Pronger and Scott Neidermeyer -- sitting on the blue line (and sometimes scoring).
"Everybody was already [predicting] us to be playing Buffalo for the Cup and who was going to win,
" said defenseman Sean O'Donnell.. "I remember talking with guys in here and we said to tell the press, 'Let's just settle down. We're only halfway through.' "
Now with the Vancouver Canucks beating the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, the Ducks got word during their own game that they had clinched their first Pacific Division title.
"Someone just came in the room and said, 'Congratulations,' " O'Donnell said. "It was one of the non-players. I'm not naming names."
Word came to the locker room in the midst of the Ducks' last game on the road versus Columbus, and the team wasn't about to lose this one. Luckily, the came through with a 4-3 win against former teammate Sergei Federov.
The Ducks ended the regular season Saturday with a team record -- 110 points (48-20-14) and clinched the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. With home ice advantage, they face the Minnesota Wild this Wednesday in Anaheim. You can bet I'll be there early.
The whole thing is deja vu, as Minnesota and the Ducks matched up in in the first round of the 2003 playoffs, and the Ducks ended up sweeping the Wild in just four games. Anaheim's an entirely different team now, but they're hoping for a repeat of that scenario, which led them into the team's only Stanley Cup finals versus the Devils. Who could forget when Anaheim forward Rob Neidermeyer had to face his brother Scott, who is now the Ducks captain, on the other team.,
"It's just the next race,
" Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said. "It's the next step in the process."
Assistant captain Teemu Selanne (the Finnish Flash) ended the season with 48 goals, the fourth highest in his career. Not bad for a 36-year-old who might have retired had his knee surgery during the NHL lock-out gone bad. He's the oldest player with that many goals in a season.
Selanne was watching the Vancouver / San Jose game closely whenever he could to see if San Jose could keep their title hopes alive. But his jaw must have dropped when he saw the Sharks tie it up with 32 seconds left in regulation.
"I was peeking at the scoreboard every chance I could during the warmup,"
said Selanne, whose 540 goals are 26th all time. "It was still 3-2 and then I heard it went to overtime. I thought, 'Unbelievable.'
The Ducks led the Pacific Division starting in October 27 and held on for 162 days, despite injuries to Chris Pronger and Todd Marchant.