Rediscovering the toughness, skill and defensive attention that made them division winners, the Ducks on Saturday earned the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.
Anaheim imposed its physical strength on last-place Arizona, limiting the Coyotes to 13 shots through the first two periods, and goalie Frederik Andersen strengthened his case for a Game 1 playoff start by stopping 23 shots in a 2-1 victory.
The prize is home-ice advantage through three rounds of the playoffs as long as the Ducks (51-24-7) can defeat wild-card entrant Winnipeg in the first round and whoever awaits in the West semifinals in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup. The Ducks’ Game 1 against the Jets will be 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at Honda Center.
“It’s always good to finish as high as you can,” Ducks first-line center Ryan Getzlaf said after contributing a goal and an assist to cap a team-best 70-point regular season.
“Today was about playing the right way, getting back to our game, and I thought we did that.”
The Ducks also owned the No. 1 seed in the West last season, but were routed at home in Game 7 of the conference semifinals by the eventual champion Kings.
Winnipeg (43-26-13) has a sharp-playing goalie, Ondrej Pavelec, and in Game 3 the hockey-crazed town will host its first playoff game since 1996.
“It would not surprise me if everyone picks them and we’re the underdog, based on how they had to make the playoffs and they’ve given up one goal in their last four games,” Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Nevertheless, the Ducks (51-24-7) beat Winnipeg in all three regular-season games, and they feel better after Saturday.
The Ducks and Coyotes each produced 41 hits, the visitors blocking 14 shots while clearing shooting lanes that allowed Andersen to complete a 35-12-5 campaign.
“Freddie was excellent. Calm, cool, had the puck on his stick, made plays, was in control,” Boudreau said.
The afternoon began with the Ducks revealing that goalie John Gibson had suffered a minor unspecified upper-body injury at practice Friday and didn’t accompany the team to Arizona.
“For [Game 1], it’s going to be close whether he’s ready to play, but it’s not going to be much longer,” Boudreau said.
The Ducks needed a win in regulation or overtime to hold off the Central Division champion St. Louis Blues for the top seed. They shrugged off two penalty kills in the first period and led 1-0 on Getzlaf’s goal 5 minutes 41 seconds into the game.
The center sat out two lethargic losses to rest because of what Boudreau said were “bumps and bruises” — residue of the long season.
The coach wanted his team to play with improved energy and focus, and predicted with a malapropism Thursday that Getzlaf’s return would help the cause: “He’s the straw that stirs the stick,” Boudreau said.
Eleven seconds after the Ducks killed off a roughing penalty on Tomas Fleischmann, the forward re-entered the game and dished a pass to Getzlaf, who flipped a backhand shot past Arizona goalie Mike Smith.
Getzlaf was also involved in Jakob Silfverberg’s goal that gave Anaheim a 2-0 lead with 36.2 seconds remaining in the second period.
“When I’m here, I’m trying to do what I can to help this team and help lead in any way I can,” Getzlaf said. “It was good to get out there with the guys. I was excited. We’ve been waiting a long time for this.”