ANAHEIM, Calif. — A first-round sweep opens the door for some welcome news for the Anaheim Ducks: a bit of rest and maybe some help on the bench.
Injured defencemen Sami Vatanen and Cam Fowler are closing in on a return to the Ducks, who haven't lost in regulation in 18 games dating to March 10. The Ducks beat Calgary in four games to open the playoffs despite largely playing without two of their top three defencemen.
While coach Randy Carlyle didn't predict Thursday whether Vatanen or Fowler would be ready for the second-round opener next week, he expects both to be available at some point in the series. Vatanen has an upper-body injury, while Fowler has been out since incurring a knee-to-knee hit from Calgary captain Mark Giordano late in the regular season.
"Any player coming back off injuries likes a little extra time, and this affords us the time that's necessary for both of those players to possibly step back into our lineup for the next series," Carlyle said. "That's a great feeling not only for us, but for them personally that they're not under pressure to get back in with a game coming up on Friday, or a game coming up on Sunday."
With Vatanen appearing in just one game and Fowler missing the entire first round, the Ducks got remarkable help from two youngsters on the blue line in finishing off the Flames. While 21-year-old Shea Theodore and 23-year-old Brandon Montour performed well, depth on the blue line will be important going forward.
Theodore had an impressive two goals and three assists in the series, while Montour logged important minutes in key situations as well. Anaheim also got three games from 29-year-old German veteran Korbinian Holzer, who had never appeared in an NHL post-season.
Since the Ducks won't know the identity of their second-round opponent until Saturday night at the earliest, Carlyle gave a three-day break to his players after their return from Calgary. They won't hit the ice again as a team until Sunday.
For now, Anaheim can await its next opponent after Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, veterans from the Stanley Cup-winning team in 2007 and Olympic gold medallists , steered the Ducks through choppy waters.
Getzlaf had three goals and two assists in four games. Perry scored the overtime winner in Game 3, and Anaheim completed the sweep Wednesday night by scoring twice in the first 6:46 on the way to a 3-1 win.
"We've been in some games where we've been able to experience those moments when there's high pressure," Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said. "When you have your leaders as guys who have played World Cups, Olympics, Stanley Cup games, it helps. Those guys have been there, they've experienced it and they know what to do in those situations. The team followed suit."
Anaheim outscored Calgary 9-2 at even strength and held Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau without a goal.
"Any time you can put a team behind you, you definitely want to take advantage of it," Getzlaf said.
The Ducks are still on a high after a two-game roll through Calgary. Anaheim trailed 4-1 late in the second period of Game 3, but scored four unanswered goals in the biggest playoff comeback in franchise history.
The Ducks now have the luxury of rest and recovery ahead of their conference semifinal.
"We move onto the next one and we know that it's only going to get tougher," Carlyle said.
Carlyle started John Gibson again in the clincher at Calgary after replacing him in the second period of Game 3 with Jonathan Bernier. Gibson, who had only two career postseason victories before this spring, made 36 saves and largely looked outstanding in Game 4.
More AP NHL: apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey