DETROIT – If the Detroit Red Wings could have picked an opening round opponent, Anaheim would have been their top choice over Chicago.
And with how the Wings played down the stretch it’s the Ducks they got, with the series beginning Tuesday night in Anaheim.
Detroit won its final four games of the regular season to climb from the eighth seed, and a date with the Blackhawks, to the seventh seed in the Western Conference to extend its consecutive trips to the playoffs to 22.
“It was playoff mode (down the stretch) and that’s what we enjoy playing the most,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “You want to play games that are really important and that mean a lot and we got a taste of it before the playoffs. I think it was good for our group to go through that and I think it’ll help us in this postseason.”
After dropping the first meeting this year with the Ducks, who scored two goals in the opening two minutes of the third period in the victory, the Wings won the next two meetings, both in Anaheim.
“We played these guys pretty well this year,” said forward Justin Abdelkader, who had a hat trick in one of the wins. “We’re looking forward to going out to California. It’s always nice going out there and hopefully we can get a couple of games. It will be a good matchup for us. They’re a good team. They’ve played well all year.”
The 10 points that separated the teams in the standings doesn’t matter to Detroit, especially seeing what the L.A. Kings did last season by winning the Stanley Cup as an eighth seed.
“I think the parity is so close in the West and in the NHL, it’s so close,” defenseman Kyle Quincey said. “Any team can beat any team and we’re just happy to be in the race right now. The way we’re playing right now, we like our chances. We just hope to keep playing like we’re playing.”
(1) Chicago vs. (8) Minnesota: The Blackhawks began the season by going 24 straight games without a regulation loss. The Wild struggled down the stretch and were the last team to qualify for the postseason. Pick: Chicago in 4.
(2) Anaheim vs. (7) Detroit: The Wings have been playing playoff type hockey down the stretch, while the Ducks have struggled, going 8-9-2 in their last 19 after starting the year 22-3-4. Pick: Detroit in 6.
(3) Vancouver vs. (6) San Jose: The big question is goaltending for the Canucks and if Cory Schneider can play well enough to keep Roberto Luongo on the bench. The Sharks swept the season series as two points separated these two teams in the standings. Pick: San Jose in 6.
(4) St. Louis vs. (5) Los Angeles: Goalie Brian Elliott got hot at the right time for the Blues going 11-2-0 over the last 13 games. The Kings have won eight in a row against St. Louis dating back to last year’s run to the Stanley Cup. Pick: St. Louis in 7.
(1) Pittsburgh vs. (8) N.Y. Islanders: Even if Sidney Crosby can’t go in the opening round, the moves the Penguins made prior to the trade deadline easily makes them the favorite in this series and also to come out of the East. The Islanders are in the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Pick: Pittsburgh in 5.
(2) Montreal vs. (7) Ottawa: The Canadiens struggled mightily down the stretch. The Senators got a huge lift on the blue line when Erik Karlsson returned from a 70-percent tear of his Achilles tendon. Pick: Montreal in 6.
(3) Washington vs. (6) N.Y. Rangers: Could be the best matchup in the opening round. The Capitals went 15-2-2 down the stretch, led by Alex Ovechkin, who scored 19 of his 32 goals in that span. The Rangers are also red hot, going 10-3-1 in April. Pick: Washington in 6.
(4) Boston vs. (8) Toronto: Their four meetings this season were close, with three decided by one goal, one was in a shootout, and another was a two-goal game. The Bruins won three of the four. The Leafs are in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Pick: Boston in 5.