I’ve always believed that some of the greatest professional sports rivalries are born out of a history of intense, significant playoff series. Not to take anything away from cross-town rivals, but there’s just something about the same teams meeting over and over again in postseason games where the players put it all out there and everything is on the line every single night.
It undoubtedly makes for some memorable moments.
So it seems fitting, I suppose, that the Anaheim Ducks open the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs against the team they have met in the postseason more than any other, a team I consider to be one of their biggest rivals.
The Detroit Red Wings.
This will be their sixth postseason meeting. Since the 1997 playoffs, no two teams have met more than these two.
And there have been more than just a few memorable moments between Anaheim and Detroit in the NHL’s second season.
After being swept by the Red Wings in both 1997 and 1999, the 7th seed 2003 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim met up with reigning Stanley Cup Champion Detroit in the first round, and behind the stellar play of goaltender J.S. Giguere, swept them in four games.
In 2007, it was J.S Giguere, Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, “forehand, backhand, nothing but water bottle” in Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena, and Anaheim took the Western Conference Finals from #1 seed Detroit in six games. I remember knowing at the very moment that Teemu raised his stick that night that the Ducks would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
In 2009, it was a #8 seed Ducks team that had just ousted the #1 seed and President’s Trophy winning San Jose Sharks who pushed the Red Wings to seven games before losing to them in the closing minutes of that last Western Conference Semi-Final game.
Fast forward to 2013.
It’s been a long wait for Anaheim and their fans to get to this point. Everyone endured a four-month league lockout before this 48-game compressed schedule began in January.
But beyond that, Ducks fans have been waiting for two years to see their team back on the ice for the best, most grueling playoffs in all of sports.
The Ducks’ Pacific Division Championship, third place overall league finish and #2 seed in the Western Conference this season was a surprise to many, including myself.
It wasn’t that I didn’t think they had the ability to do well. It’s just I didn’t know what to expect from this team. A brutal season in recent memory will do that to you.
But the Ducks had a season for the record books, finishing with the best winning percentage in club history (66 points, .688). They came out flying, established their spot near the top and never gave it up, earning themselves home ice for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs. Led by head coach Bruce Boudreau, and with solid contributions from up and down the line-up, their accomplishments have been a true team effort. And coming off of the last few seasons, this was awesome to see.
Put in the position of having to win a number of games at the end of the season just to secure a playoff spot, this will be Detroit’s 22nd consecutive playoff appearance. That’s almost unbelievable. Even post-Nicklas Lidstrom, this team is well coached, full of talent and depth, and is always dangerous.
As it always seems with these two teams, this series has all the ingredients to become another classic. And it begins Tuesday night, with Game 1 at Honda Center. Opening face-off is at 7:30pmPT.
Fans are off-the-charts excited. Because honestly, the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are unlike anything else out there. The heart stopping, edge-of-your-seat excitement, night after night in the world’s greatest sport is unmatched. It draws you in, and once you’re hooked, trust me, you’ll never look back.
The Ducks announced that they will be hosting “The Playoff Spot” in the north side of the Honda Center Parking lot prior to every home playoff game. All ticketed fans can arrive up to two hours before puck drop to enjoy food, drinks, live music and HD televisions for viewing other NHL Stanley Cup Playoff action.
And for those who remember this season’s home opener, glow sticks, in addition to playoff towels, will be given to all fans in attendance. I got chills when they turned down the lights on Opening Night and Honda Center was lit up orange. Chills. Get there early, fans. You won’t want to miss being a part of that.
The players and coaching staff are pumped too. And why not? With the regular season behind them, they can focus on the bigger goal. This is what they play for, the chance to win the most beloved trophy in all of sports. The chance to hoist the Cup. You can read and listen to some of the players’ thoughts on Detroit and the playoffs here.
My favorite quote is from Ryan Getzlaf:
“Have you listened to the media the past couple of days? We are not the favorites. Trust me.”
Don’t worry, Captain. Those are probably the same “experts” who had the Ducks missing the postseason altogether. I like Wahoo’s take on this series better. (“We had a meeting….”)
As formidable of an opponent as Detroit always is, I believe the Ducks can beat this Red Wings team in a best of seven series. I just think it will take them seven games to do it.
Back in January, as the lockout ended and the NHL season finally got ready to start, I wrote these words:
“I think more than anything, I just want the Ducks to go out there and play with passion and intensity, like every game matters. Because it does. No slow starts. Play like the best players in the world that you are. You say you’ve missed the game and the fans. Play like you mean that.”
The Ducks have done this, and more, completely exceeding my expectations. And now that they are back in playoffs, I say this:
Go out there and play with passion and intensity each night. This is the Stanley Cup Playoffs and every game matters. No slow starts. Play with a chip on your shoulder and prove to all those who doubt that no matter the opponent, this team is a force to be reckoned with. You say this is why you play the game, for the chance to win Lord Stanley’s Cup. Play like you mean that.
It’s time for Ducks to fly.
Because It’s the Cup.
Don’t miss a minute. There truly is nothing like it in all of sports.
All images via the Anaheim Ducks.