Ducks have the playoff stage to themselves

Ducks open playoffs Thursday against Winnipeg Jets, whom they swept during the regular season

When it comes to grabbing the Southland hockey fans' attention, the Ducks have been left lately to settle for scraps.

The Kings have won two of the last three Stanley Cups, while the Ducks haven't been able to expand their brand much outside of Orange County.

Now, with the Kings not in the playoffs, is their chance.

Fueled by consecutive postseason disappointments and reloaded by players with an edge, the top-seeded Ducks open the NHL playoffs Thursday night at Honda Center against the wild-card Winnipeg Jets.

"It's good for California hockey to have a team in [the playoffs]," Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said. "The best way to increase the game is to keep winning and we have the opportunity to do that."

The Ducks, after finishing 51-24-7 in the regular season, have kept their home crowds on edge by rallying from third-period deficits to win an NHL-record 18 games this season. One comeback included a Jan. 11 rally from a 4-2 hole against Winnipeg in Anaheim to win in a shootout on Teemu Selanne night.

"We know they're a different team now, that their goalie [Ondrej Pavelec] is playing better and they've picked up some guys at the deadline, but it all comes down to what we can do," Cogliano said. "And we know if we play like we can, we're confident."

The Ducks won all three regular-season games against the Jets, with two in Winnipeg, but as they got a glimpse last season in Selanne's final game in the city where his NHL career began, the Jets' fan base is passionate.

Not only did Winnipeg fans buy up all available playoff tickets in five minutes, they plan to stage a white-out by wearing all-white clothing for Game 3 on Monday in what will be the city's first playoff game since 1996.

"If you're a hockey player who wants to do well, you embrace it," Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said. "That's a situation where they were waiting for a team for a long time. It'll be awesome to go into an environment like that. By no means will it be easy, but our building is a raucous place too. That's what makes playoff hockey."

The Jets (43-26-13) clinched the final wild-card playoff spot by giving up only one goal in the final four games and weathering a suspension to Dustin Byfuglien. They also landed 6-foot-8 defenseman Tyler Myers before the trade deadline.

Ducks forward Corey Perry, a master at chippy play, said the Jets probably will test the boundaries. Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau elevated rugged forward Patrick Maroon to the first line in preparation for Game 1.

"They're quick, big and worked hard to get into the playoffs," Perry said. "There's a fine line you can't cross. We're physical and big too, so it'll be the team that can be the most disciplined … special teams could be a big factor."

The Jets might be willing to take more liberties considering the Ducks enter the playoffs mired in a one-for-23 rut on the power play, but Anaheim center Ryan Kesler pointed out his team was a more respectable four for 13 with a man advantage against the Jets.

The Ducks are hopeful they can revert to their late-season focus on defense, when they won eight of 10 games by yielding two goals or fewer in each of the victories, then closed out the regular season Saturday with a 2-1 triumph at Arizona.

"We're going to [need] a strong board game and win those battles," Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said.

The Ducks' trade-deadline acquisitions — James Wisniewski and Simon Despres on the blue line — have added stability, and goalie Frederik Andersen is expected to return in net after winning three playoff games last season as a rookie.

"All eyes in California will be on us," Boudreau said. "If we're good, that's good."

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