They have the third best record overall in the NHL and are the only team to give the runaway leaders, the Chicago Blackhawks, any kind of consistent trouble this season.
One hundred games into his Anaheim Ducks coaching career, Bruce Boudreau boasts a sparkling 54-33-13 record and has his team humming along at the top of the tough Pacific Division. In Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks have one of the top centres in the league, a player who has bounced back in a big way from an underperforming year last year. They are getting solid goaltending from Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth, and on the blueline, they may have one of the most imposing pairs in the league in Sheldon Souray and François Beauchemin.
Beauchemin is the former Toronto Maple Leaf who went to the Ducks in the trade for Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner, and how often has that transaction shifted with the tide? For a time it looked heavily one-sided in Toronto's favour because of Gardiner's precociousness. More recently, Lupul – thought to be a salary dump at the time – has emerged as one of the Leafs' most consistent scorers and leaders, when healthy. But Beauchemin? Among Western Conference defencemen, he is in the conversation for the Norris Trophy, because of his offence and defence. Souray is in the top five in the league's plus-minus stats.
Add it all up and the Ducks represent a formidable opponent, even if they've slipped into a win-one, lose-one pattern of late as their spot in the standings is secure. They cannot catch Chicago, but it is unlikely that anyone can catch them for second overall in the conference. So they'll go into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference standings – big, strong, experienced, deep, and a team that almost no one is talking about as a Stanley Cup contender.
So what gives?
"You play out west, you don't get a lot of attention, and obviously, with the Kings being the reigning Cup champs, that's where all the focus has been," Getzlaf said. "And that's okay. It's almost better to fly under the radar."
The Ducks were a better team in the second half last year than they were in the first, but in the off-season, general manager Bob Murray added size to a team that had lost some of its identity as a difficult team to play against, once Chris Pronger had been traded away. Souray and Bryan Allen give them that. Souray and Beauchemin have become Boudreau's primary shut-down defensive pair, two physical players who make it uncomfortable for a forward to come down either side of the ice.
"It's been easy to play with him because we're both veteran guys who don't have any glamour in our game," said Souray, who played a similar role for the Dallas Stars last year, mostly with Stéphane Robidas. "We just try to play simple better than anyone else."
The Ducks have been trying to gear up for the playoffs for a while now and one of the steps they've taken is to give Teemu Selanne more time off at practice and fewer minutes in the games he does play, as a concession to his 42 years. Selanne had two four-point games, and one three-pointer, in the Ducks' first 11, but of late his offence has fallen off with just seven goals (and nine points overall) in his past 31 games.
"The first 20 games, I was playing 18 minutes a game," Selanne said. "Then now, the last 18 or 20 games, it's been 12 or 13. That's not enough for a guy like me. I haven't done that on purpose. The coach, he knows I'm a little older than some guys, so he tries to rest me more and more, and he tries to force me to take practices off and even games. It has been hard to take any games off, but I will for sure because I know that when we get to the playoffs, I need to be fresh."
In the meantime, Selanne says that even as the Ducks aren't getting a ton of attention elsewhere, the expectations internally are "very high."
"We know how good we can be," Selanne said. "I think we really enjoy that we're not in the spotlight. Even at the time when we were playing really unbelievable, and Chicago was that historic streak, everybody was talking about them, and that was perfect for us.
"This team, for some reason, when people start talking too highly about our team, it's affecting our game, and not in a good way. It has been a really good season so far. Lately, we haven't been at our peak, so now it's time, these last games, to start building the momentum for the playoffs. But the team is good this year. We have a lot of depth. I think we have all the tools."