Ducks are ready for the playoffs
Chris Pronger made a largely quiet return to the lineup for the Ducks’ regular-season finale Sunday against the Phoenix Coyotes.
For the Ducks’ sake, that’s good and bad.
The towering defenseman didn’t factor in their 3-2 shootout win but he also didn’t do anything to hurt their cause. For him, the game was about getting back up to speed in anticipation of the Dallas Stars, who’ll come to the Honda Center for Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals Thursday night.
Pronger’s last appearance on the ice carried a lot more impact, though not in the manner his team desires. On March 12 against Vancouver, the Ducks’ captain intentionally stepped on the leg of Canucks center Ryan Kesler, earning Pronger an eight-game suspension by the NHL.
There was no incident approaching that Sunday. Pronger played nearly 19 1/2 minutes and had four of their 43 shots on Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. He also got whistled for interfering with the Coyotes’ Mathias Tjarnqvist and escaped injury late in the third when he landed on his right knee as he tangled with Phoenix captain Shane Doan.
All in the name of getting ready for the playoffs.
“It was nice to get back on the ice and back into a game,” Pronger said. “Obviously the real test will be Thursday when we start against Dallas. It’s nice to get into live action and get a feel for the tempo of a game.”
Losing one of the league’s best defensemen for more than a few games would be a damaging blow to most teams. But the Ducks have been down this road before and they haven’t made a wrong turn yet.
The Ducks won six of the eight games without Pronger, which helped secure home-ice advantage against the Stars in the opening round. And they have flourished in his absence in other important times.
Last season, Pronger was suspended for Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against Detroit and Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals against Ottawa because of hits to the head of Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom and Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond.
In each case, the Ducks won and both victories were vital in their successful run to a Stanley Cup title. But playing another postseason game without Pronger is a situation they’d rather avoid.
“We definitely enjoy having our captain in the lineup,” forward Chris Kunitz said. “He’s somebody that we can rally behind.”
After his seventh suspension and the longest of his 14-year career, Pronger issued a public apology for his actions against Kesler. Will that force him to change his intimidating, physical brand of hockey? Not likely.
“It’s a game of action and reaction,” Pronger said. “Do I need to be more cognizant of what’s going on around me? Do I need to try to control myself in a more appropriate and league-friendly manner? Is that where we’re going now? I don’t know.
“As you can see, I don’t have an answer for you. I just had three weeks to think about it.”
As for the finale, Kunitz and Bobby Ryan scored goals 43 seconds apart in the third period to bring the Ducks back from a 2-0 deficit created by two goals from Phoenix rookie Daniel Carcillo.
Kunitz also delivered in the shootout, along with Teemu Selanne and Ryan Getzlaf, who had the decisive score against Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov had three wins against his old team this season, all of them coming in shootouts.
Jonas Hiller made 32 saves as the Ducks finished with a 47-27-8 record and topped 100 points for the second consecutive season.
“We finished a season off with 102 points in a real tough division,” Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said. “Our hockey club has battled through a lot of adversity from the beginning of the season right until the end of the season.
“They are the ones that should be credited.”
The standing-room-only crowd of 17,269 marked a complete sellout of the Ducks’ 40 home games this season, marking the first time that has been done in franchise history.