(SportsNetwork.com) - The Anaheim Ducks open the playoffs as the West's top seed and hope to get a quick start on Wednesday when they host the Dallas Stars at the Honda Center for Game 1 of a best-of-seven series.
Few teams looked as unbeatable as the Ducks at the start of the season.
But after a dominating effort for a good part of the season, Anaheim started to slip a bit heading into the Olympic break and had posted a mark of just 14-12-3 during a 29-game span from Jan. 17-April 6.
The Ducks then capped the regular season with four straight victories, but presumed playoff starter Jonas Hiller was not in net for any of those games. Hiller, in fact, did not play in seven of Anaheim's final eight games and has not won since March 26.
Still, head coach Bruce Boudreau is likely to go with Hiller over the inexperienced Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, neither of whom have ever played in an NHL playoff game.
Hiller's postseason numbers are not terrible, with the 32-year-old pending free agent having gone 10-10 with a 2.31 goals against average, .935 save percentage and three shutouts in 20 games.
Given the fact that the Ducks led the NHL with 3.21 goals per game this season, Boudreau may be able to roll the dice with Hiller and hope the netminder can recapture the form that saw him post a club-record 14-game winning streak from Dec. 6-Jan. 12.
Forward Corey Perry was second in the league with 43 goals to go along with a plus-32 rating, while center Ryan Getzlaf finished fifth in the NHL with 56 assists and second to only Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby in points with 87.
Ducks winger Teemu Selanne is expected to retire at season's end and the 43- year-old could have some extra juice for this postseason. He comes into the series having totaled 42 goals and 82 points in 118 career playoff games.
"This is the best time for hockey players," Selanne said. "You've got to enjoy every day and every moment. Every little thing matters. Even a little thing can turn the whole series around."
The Stars overhauled their identity this past offseason in an effort to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Under the guidance of first-year coach Lindy Ruff and offensive threat Tyler Seguin, the Stars claimed the Western Conference's second wild card position.
Sure, they got some help from a slumping Phoenix Coyotes club, which had lost seven straight before beating the Stars in a meaningless regular-season finale, and Dallas did just enough by going 3-4-0 down the stretch, but the results are in the bottom line.
And what a line it was for Seguin, who the Stars acquired this past offseason from the Boston Bruins. The 22-year-old brought rumors of immaturity with him to Dallas, but with the Stars all he did was show the skill that led to him being the second overall pick of the 2010 draft. Seguin led Dallas across the board with 37 goals, 47 assists and 84 points -- all career highs -- and now brings 42 games of playoff experience to the Stars.
Seguin has six goals and 12 assists in the postseason and was part of the Cup- winning 2010-11 Bruins club.
His presence also helped Stars captain Jamie Benn soar to new heights. The winger set new career highs with 34 goals, 45 assists and 79 points in 81 games, and the duo of Seguin and Benn was a big reason that the Stars finished 10th in the NHL with 2.82 goals per game.
Six other Dallas skaters reached double figures in goals, including Ryan Garbutt (17 goals) and Cody Eakin and Erik Cole, who had 16 goals apiece. Rookies Valeri Nichushkin (10th overall pick of the 2010 draft) and Alex Chiasson also were steady contributors and Dallas has veteran depth in Ray Whitney and Shawn Horcoff.
Defensively, Alex Goligoski had an excellent campaign, with his 42 points a career high and his best total since logging 37 points with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.
However, inexperience could be an issue in net with No. 1 Kari Lehtonen, who owns just two career playoff games to his resume and none since 2006-07 with the Atlanta Thrashers. He was solid this regular season, going 33-20-10 with a 2.41 goals against average and .919 save percentage.
Should Lehtonen struggle early, Ruff will have the option of going to veteran Tim Thomas, acquired at this year's trade deadline. Thomas didn't wow in eight games with Dallas, but has outstanding playoff numbers at 29-21 with a 2.07 GAA, .933 save percentage and six shutouts. Of course, he also won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy with Boston in 2011.
The Stars won two of their three meetings with the Ducks this season, with the clubs exchanging 6-3 home victories before Dallas claimed a 2-0 win at Anaheim on Feb. 1. Lehtonen did not face the Ducks this season and is 9-7-3 with a 2.41 GAA against them in 19 career meetings. Hiller went 0-2 with a 3.91 GAA in three meetings this season, pulled in the first meeting in Anaheim back on Oct. 20.
"We know them well and we�ve had some success against them," said Goligoski. "They're fast and they're a bigger team, and they obviously had a great season. We're looking forward to the challenge."
This marks the third all-time playoff meeting between these clubs and first since the Stars bested the Ducks in six games during the 2008 Western Conference quarterfinals. That avenged a six-game series loss to Anaheim in the 2003 semifinals.
Anaheim also will host Game 2 of this series on Friday.
The Ducks were 29-8-4 as the home team this season, while Dallas was just 17-20-4 as the visitors.