(SportsNetwork.com) - The Anaheim Ducks hope to get off to a quick start in the 2015 playoffs when they host the Winnipeg Jets for Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals on Thursday.
The Ducks are the West's top seed for a second straight spring and Pacific Division champions for a third consecutive season.
However, Anaheim hasn't moved past the second round since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007 and have been eliminated in a Game 7 at home in each of the past two playoffs. Last spring they were unseated by the eventual-champion Los Angeles Kings.
If anything, Anaheim appears to be built this season for playoff hockey. The Ducks set NHL records by winning 33 one-goal games and also rallied for 18 victories when trailing at any point in the third period.
Forwards and top-line mates Ryan Getzlaf (25 goals, 45 assists) and Corey Perry (33G, 22A) remain a formidable 1-2 scoring punch, but the offseason addition of solid two-way center Ryan Kesler helped as well. He reached the 20-goal mark and logged nearly 20 minutes of ice time per game.
Anaheim had seven forwards reach double-digits in goals scored, but one who didn't, Patrick Maroon, would open the postseason on a line with Getzlaf and Perry.
The Ducks lack a true superstar at the blue line and yielded 2.70 goals per game (20th in the league), so head coach Bruce Boudreau may roll all three pairings out equally at even strength.
Boudreau is also likely to go with Frederik Andersen as his goaltender for this series. Andersen matched an NHL record as the fastest goaltender to 50 career wins and went 35-12-5 with a 2.38 goals against average and .914 save percentage in 54 games.
Paul Maurice, meanwhile, has finally established the Jets' identity and it resulted in the franchise's second-ever playoff berth. With Maurice behind the bench, Winnipeg has become a hard-working, grinding team that can wear down the competition. With that persona in tow, Winnipeg set a club record with 99 points and reached the postseason for the first time since the Atlanta Thrashers were swept out of the first round in 2007. The franchise will be seeking its first-ever playoff win tonight.
Playoff hockey will eventually return to Winnipeg for the first time since 1996, with the city losing its original franchise to Arizona via relocation. However, the first two tilts will be in Anaheim with Game 2 set for Saturday before the Jets host the third meeting Monday at MTS Centre.
The leadership trio of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler composite the Jets' identity and finished 1-2-3 on the club in scoring. Wheeler paced the club with 26 goals to go along with 61 points, Ladd led the way with 62 points and matched Little's 24 goal.
It was the rest of the roster that finally caught on. Mark Scheifele pivots the second line and logged 49 points, while the likes of Mathieu Perreault (18 goals, 23 assists) and Michael Frolik (19G, 42A) excel in multiple roles.
Winnipeg also added a number of key pieces before the trade deadline, none bigger than the blockbuster deal that sent enigma Evander Kane and blueliner Zach Bogosian to the Buffalo Sabres for forward Drew Stafford and defenseman Tyler Myers.
Stafford had nine goals and 19 points in 26 games with the Jets and fellow pickups Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty were brought in for much-needed depth.
Myers, meanwhile, added 15 points and was a plus-9 in 24 games with Winnipeg, fitting in with a defensive grouping that added Dustin Byfuglien mid-season as well.
Byfuglien opened the campaign as a forward, but has experience on the blue line and was shifted to the role in December after a rash of injuries robbed the Jets of a number of defensemen. Byfuglien excelled in a big way after the move, continuing to produce on offense while adding another physical presence at the back end.
Maurice used Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson at different times this season as the No. 1 goaltender, but Pavelec won the job back late in the season and should be the starter going forward.
This will be the first ever playoff meeting between the Ducks and the current Jets. Anaheim swept the three-game season series, winning twice in Winnipeg prior to a shootout win at home on Jan. 11.
Andersen started all three meetings and is 4-0 with a 2.68 GAA and .912 save percentage in five games (4 starts) all-time in the series. Pavelec started a pair of games versus the Ducks this season, but is only 1-1-3 with a 3.53 GAA and .900 save percentage in five career encounters.