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Hockey

Ducks face formidable task in the near future while chasing a playoff spot

The Ducks took care of business against two teams far removed from the playoff chase.

Now they must contend with three consecutive games against clubs fighting for the Stanley Cup as they continue their own battle for postseason play.

The stretch of contests begins Sunday against the New Jersey Devils, a red-hot club that enters the contest with victories on the road over the two best squads in the Western Conference.

The Devils bested the Nashville Predators last Saturday in a shootout to conclude a 10-game winning streak. Four days later, the Devils managed to hang eight goals on the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

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The Devils defeated the Kings 3-0 on Saturday.

“We know what their strengths are,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “They’re a hockey club that’s surprising a lot of people. They’ve got lots of depth throughout their lineup. … They’ve got lots of youth and they’re playing a high-tempo game, and we have to be on the right side of the puck more often than not.”

After they meet the Devils, it doesn’t get any easier. The Ducks then embark on a four-game trip with the first two meetings against the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.

The Flames sit four points behind the Ducks, and the Jets have a steady grip on a playoff berth with 94 points, 10 more than the Ducks.

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There are 10 games remaining, so these three contests are beyond crucial with the Ducks fighting six squads for four postseason spots.

Kesler ends slump

It’s no secret Ryan Kesler is far from 100%.

The former Selke Trophy winner underwent major hip surgery over the summer and was forced to learn to stride again.

The 33-year-old returned in December to his usual spot as the checking-line center between Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg, but he hasn’t been quite the same player, at least on the offensive side.

That was to be expected after a lengthy rehabilitation process.

He’s been creating more chances recently, and on Friday he finally broke through with his first goal since Feb. 9. Cogliano found Kesler streaking to the net, and the Michigan man whacked the puck off his backhand twice (the second time off his own rebound) to put it past Detroit’s Jimmy Howard.

It must have been a weight off Kesler’s back after he endured a 14-game goalless drought (with only one assist during that stretch), right?

“Was it?” asked Kesler, who has 10 points in 33 games, of the drought’s length. “Oh, I don’t even know. I don’t pay attention to that. I just want wins right now.”

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He also generated four shots on goal — along with a team-high four high-danger scoring chances — and it’s clear he’s turning the corner. Not just Kesler, but his entire line, too. Silfverberg produced two assists and Cogliano had one.

Cogliano almost had another after he fed the puck to Kesler all alone in front after Dylan Larkin fell to the ice, but the centerman couldn’t finish.

“Give credit to my two linemates, they’re playing really well,” Kesler said. “I’m just on their coattails right now.”

UP NEXT

VS. NEW JERSEY DEVILS

When: 6 p.m., Sunday.

On the air: TV: FS West Radio: 830.

Update: Devils forward Taylor Hall is a candidate for the Hart Trophy with 76 points. He had his 26-game point streak snapped last week, one of just two players to score during such a stretch over the last 20 years (Patrick Kane the other). … When the Ducks and Devils met in December, New Jersey prevailed 5-3. That was the first time the clubs played since Anaheim sent Sami Vatanen over in exchange for Adam Henrique. Henrique compiled a goal and an assist in that game, and he’s been a valuable producer for the Ducks. Vatanen has been equally as impressive with the Devils. The defenseman has 13 points in his last 13 games.

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