The Ducks turned in the franchise's best season since winning their one and only Stanley Cup title in 2006-07, as Anaheim surprised its way to a Pacific Division title.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau, who took over the reins for Anaheim in November of the 2011 season, became a bona-fide Jack Adams Award candidate in Year 2 with the Ducks, leading the team to a stout 30-12-6 record. Anaheim did wobble a bit later in the year, allowing Los Angeles and San Jose to close the gap for the Pacific title, but the Ducks eventually claimed the crown as the top club in what is perhaps the league's toughest division.
The Ducks played a balanced brand of hockey under Boudreau this season, finishing eighth in the NHL in team offense with 2.79 goals per game and placing ninth in defense with an average of 2.40 goals surrendered. Anaheim's winning percentage of .688 also was the best in club history, beating the 2006-07 club, which was the only other Ducks' team to win a division title.
Anaheim made the playoffs for the second time in four seasons during this lockout-shortened campaign, and the resurgence of captain Ryan Getzlaf was big in getting the Ducks back to the postseason after finishing 13th in the West last year.
In 2011-12, Getzlaf managed only 11 goals and 57 points while playing in all 82 games. The goal total was the worst of his career while his 57 points only bettered the 39 points he had in 57 games as a rookie back in 2005-06. The club's top centerman bounced back in a big way this season, however, recording 15 goals and 34 assists for a total of 49 points in 44 games.
Corey Perry, Anaheim's top sniper, also played a big role for the Ducks this season, matching Getzlaf for the team lead in goals and finishing second with 36 points. Both Getzlaf and Perry were rewarded for their efforts midway through this season, as they each signed eight-year contract extension to keep them in Anaheim through the 2020-21 seasons.
"This is an exciting time of the year. Any time the season ends and the real fun begins, that's why we play the game," Getzlaf recently told his club's official web site.
Another big forward for the Ducks is Bobby Ryan, who is often rumored to be trade bait. Although a bit smaller than Getzlaf or Perry, Ryan is still listed as 6-foot-2, 208 pounds and he used that size to help him score 11 goals and finish third on the team with 30 points.
After the big three of Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan, Anaheim relies on a pair of Finnish veterans for additional scoring, as Saku Koivu and the ageless wonder Teemu Selanne finished fourth and fifth, respectively, on the team in points.
Koivu, 38, had 27 points on eight goals and 19 assists, while the 42-year-old Selanne added 12 goals and 12 helpers. With 675 career goals, Selanne is ranked 11th on the NHL's all-time list and he also has 79 points (41 goals, 38 assists) in 111 career playoff games.
Outside of an impressive array of top forwards, the Ducks' next-biggest strength is in net, where both Jonas Hiller and rookie Viktor Fasth turned in strong seasons.
Hiller went 15-6-4 with a 2.36 goals against average and .913 save percentage this season and he really played well down the stretch, recording a 1.79 GAA over his last seven starts. Fasth went 15-6-2 with a 2.18 GAA, .921 save percentage and four shutouts, but Hiller expects to start at the beginning of the postseason due to his playoff experience. He is 7-6 with a 2.23 GAA and .943 save percentage in the postseason, while Fasth's only playoff reps came while playing in Sweden.
The Ducks also boast a defensive corps with a nice mix of young players and veterans. Francois Beauchemin led the group in average ice time (23:27) and also paced the Anaheim blue line with 24 points on six goals and 18 assists. Fellow veteran Sheldon Souray, who led the Anaheim blue line with seven goals, had 17 total points and tied Beauchemin for the team lead with a plus-19 rating. Souray provides a huge shot from the point and his presence helped Anaheim have the league's fourth-rated power play this season.
Toni Lydman, Bryan Allen and Ben Lovejoy also provide a veteran presence at the back end of the defensive rotation.
Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa, who are 21 and 23 years old, respectively, make up the future of Anaheim's defense. However, Fowler had one goal and 10 assists in 37 games this season and has seemed to regress since bursting on the scene with 10 goals and 30 assists as a rookie in 2010-11. Sbisa, meanwhile, had one goal and seven assists, but hasn't played since suffering a lower body issue on April 13 and he is questionable for the start of this series.
Anaheim finished the regular season with the 13th-rated penalty killing unit and it also scored five times while down a man.
DETROIT RED WINGS (7th seed, West)
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 24-16-8
2012 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Nashville 4-1 in conference quarterfinals.
Detroit knew the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement after last season was going to make qualifying for the playoffs difficult for a change.
It turns out those fears weren't misguided, even if the Red Wings managed to make the postseason for the 22nd straight time. Detroit used a four-game winning streak to close the regular season to keep the playoff streak alive, but the seventh-place finish in the West gives the club its worst seeding since it last missed the postseason in 1989-90.
After breaking into the league in 1991-92, Lidstrom carved out one of the greatest careers by an NHL defenseman over his 20 years in Detroit. However, shortly after the Red Wings lost in five games to Nashville in last year's playoffs, the seven-time Norris Trophy winner and four-time Stanley Cup champion announced his retirement.
It didn't help that the year before Lidstrom called it a career, another standout Detroit defenseman -- Brian Rafalski -- also announced his retirement and last summer fellow blueliner Brad Stuart also departed in the offseason for free agency.
With all those recent losses on the blue line, the Red Wings somehow managed to have the fifth-best defense in the league this season, allowing 2.29 goals per game.
Fittingly, a couple of Swedes in Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson form the top pairing for Detroit in the post-Lidstrom era. Kronwall is now Detroit's top blueliner in the wake of his countryman's retirement and he led the Red Wings with 29 points (5G, 24A) from the back end. He also led the entire club with 24 minutes and 21 seconds ice time per game.
Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith make up the second pairing, while Jakub Kindl and rookie Danny DeKeyser are also expected to log minutes at the back end.
Jimmy Howard turned in a fine season between the pipes for the Red Wings, starting 42 of 48 games and posting a 21-13-7 record to go with a 2.13 GAA and .923 save percentage. He also recorded five shutouts to tie four other netminders for the league lead.
Howard, who was signed to a six-year extension during the season, still has a lot to prove in the playoffs. The 29-year-old is 13-15 with a 2.63 GAA in 28 career postseason games and he surrendered 13 goals in five games during last spring's first-round exit against the Predators.
The Red Wings' offense is still led by their top forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, but Detroit's overall offensive depth is not what it used to be. Still, Datsyuk was one of five Detroit players with double digit goals this season, as he led the team with 15 markers to go along with a team-best 49 points.
Zetterberg was fourth on the team with 11 goals, but just one point behind Datsyuk for the club lead.
Johan Franzen plays a valuable role in front of the net and he managed 14 goals and 17 assists in 41 games this season. The man known as "Mule" is also a proven playoff performer, notching 38 goals in 88 career postseason games.
Zetterberg has compiled an impressive 102 points (51G, 51A) over 109 playoff games, while Datsyuk has 33 goals and 94 points in 126 postseason contests.
Head coach Mike Babcock has a few veteran options to use up front if the team struggles at the beginning of this series. Forwards Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson missed the majority of season due to injuries, but both are available to play in this series. Babcock restrained himself from using the players with the team playing well down the stretch, but either Bertuzzi or Samuelsson could work their way back in the lineup in Round 1.
Detroit was ranked 12th in penalty killing during the season and 15th on the power play.
This is the sixth playoff meeting between the Red Wings and Ducks, who met five teams in the postseason from 1997-2009. Detroit has won three of the five series and beat Anaheim in seven games when the clubs last met in the 2009 conference semifinals.
The Red Wings also won two of the three regular-season encounters this year, taking the last two meetings after Anaheim earned a 5-2 rout in Detroit on Feb. 15.
Getzlaf and Perry each had a goal and two assists over the three encounters in 2013, while Justin Abdelkader led Detroit's offense with three goals and one assist during the season series.
Howard clearly outplayed either Anaheim goaltender over the course of the three meetings, going 2-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA. Hiller was 0-1 with a 2.50 GAA and Fasth went 1-1-0 with a 3.61 GAA.
The Red Wings entered the postseason on a high note thanks to four straight wins to complete their schedule, but Anaheim should have the upper hand in this series. Expect the Ducks' top-two lines to wear down Detroit's defense over the course of the series, as Anaheim grinds out a first-round win.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Ducks in 6