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Playoff Buffer Zone Could Use Padding

Times Staff Writer

This is uncharted territory for the Mighty Ducks and navigation can get a little tricky.

From the time he arrived, Coach Mike Babcock has talked about being in the hunt. Well, the Ducks have done that. The difficult part is they are the fox and not the hound.

A 15-7-1-1 streak has the Ducks in seventh place, four points ahead of eighth-place Edmonton. More important, they are seven points ahead of Nashville, eight ahead of the Kings, and 10 ahead of Phoenix and Chicago. A nice spot, but it does make the Ducks the pursued rather than a pursuer.

Even in the two seasons the Ducks made the playoffs, they had to come from below in the last month of the season. This time, they have to protect what they have, starting tonight against an improved Atlanta team.

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“Obviously we can’t relax,” defenseman Ruslan Salei said. “We have 17 games left. We don’t have 95-100 points, so nothing is guaranteed for us. We’re still on the bubble. We can’t look past any opponent.”

The Ducks have drifted a little in the last two weeks, with a 3-4-1-0 record in the last eight games.

That has been due in part to a power play that is on the blink.

The Ducks have had one goal in their last 31 chances and have slipped to 14th in the NHL after having the league’s No. 1 power play through early January.

The Ducks were scoreless in six power plays during a 3-1 loss to Phoenix Friday, although they did show signs of life.

“We just didn’t shoot it in the back of the net,” Babcock said. “We thought our power-play breakout was the best it’s been in a long time, but we didn’t shoot the puck enough. We forced too many pucks and were trying to be too cute instead of firing and going to the net.

“We need to play with some urgency every night, after a win, after a loss. Of course, this is a lot more fun than if we had our holiday plans booked already.”

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TONIGHT

vs. Atlanta, 5, Ch. 9

Site--Arrowhead Pond.

Radio--KPLS (830).

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Records--Ducks 30-23-8-4; Thrashers 21-33-5-4.

Record vs. Thrashers--1-0-0-0.

Update--The Ducks burned Atlanta, 5-1, but this is a different looking Thrasher team since former Colorado Coach Bob Hartley took over. The Thrashers are 9-8-3-0 under Hartley.

Tickets--(877) 945-3946

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