First-round breakdown: Ducks vs. Wild
The Ducks were denied their late bid to overhaul the Red Wings for the conference title and the Presidents' Trophy (they still ended up with 110 points), but they are an elite team that is both talented and well-coached. They also like to play it rough, leading the league in fighting majors.
Anaheim will face a Minnesota team that boasts its most talented lineup in its relatively short history. The Wild have overcome their early-season road woes, which will be crucial as they'll face a Ducks team that lost just six times at home in regulation. Only Detroit had fewer home losses (four) in the league. The Wild, who set a franchise record with 104 points, will either use an untested playoff netminder in Niklas Backstrom, or a goalie who has played just one period since Jan. 30 in Manny Fernandez. Either way, Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire will have his hands full controlling a big, talented Ducks squad that has the tools to win it all.
2. The Marian Gaborik factor. The talented forward missed 2½ months with a groin injury, but the Wild are a different team with him in the lineup as he's averaged well over a point a game (57 points in 48 games). He leads the team with seven game-winning goals and has at least a point in 13 of the past 14 games. Gaborik had 17 points in 18 games back in 2003, when the Wild surprised everyone by advancing to the conference finals. But the expectations on him, and the entire team, are greater now. Can he deliver?
3. The Twin Towers. We don't know if anyone else calls them that, but we do. Of course, we speak of Norris Trophy candidates Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Although injuries will likely keep Pronger off the final ballot, Niedermayer has been all-world, leading all defensemen in scoring. Nieds and Pronger rank second and fourth, respectively, in average ice time per night, which means there is no break for the Wild. If they stay healthy, the two are almost impossible to control at either end of the ice.
4. Special teams. Both teams are near the top of the heap in special teams with the Wild boasting the league's second-best penalty-killing unit (the Ducks are fifth). The Ducks rank third with the man advantage, while the Wild are ninth.
5. Balance of power. The Wild have nothing that compares to the prowess of Niedermayer, Pronger and Francois Beauchemin, who combined for 156 points. So, if the Wild stay close, they will have to get some unexpected offensive support from the likes of Brent Burns, Kim Johnsson and Petteri Nummelin.
• Ducks: Selanne finished with 94 points, his best total since 1998-99, when he was on his first go-round with the Ducks. Todd Marchant, who had 13 postseason points in 16 games a year ago, has played just three games since Feb. 17 as he deals with a nagging groin injury.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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2007 NHL PLAYOFFS
After a wild race to the finish, the NHL playoffs are set. Heading into Wednesday's opening night, Scott Burnside previews the first round:
• No. 1 Buffalo vs. No. 8 N.Y. Islanders
• No. 2 New Jersey vs. No. 7 Tampa Bay
• No. 3 Atlanta vs. No. 6 N.Y. Rangers
• No. 4 Ottawa vs. No. 5 Pittsburgh