Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 2/22/12

In recent years, an underachieving team from the first half has made things interesting in the second half. Last year it was the New Jersey Devils; the year before it was the Carolina Hurricanes. Over the last month and a half, Bruce Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks have miraculously re-entered the playoff picture. But they still have a lot of work to do if they wish to make the playoffs.

There’s a lot to like about the Ducks right now. It’s hard to imagine this is the same team that was 20 points removed from a playoff spot on Jan. 5. (It’s also hard to imagine they were listening to trade offers for the likes of Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf at that time.) Forty-nine days later, Boudreau has his team within striking distance – six points – of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

How have the Ducks climbed back into the race? This is a team that is looking a lot like they did last year when they went on a late surge to grab first-round home-ice. The big guns, most notably Corey Perry, are carrying the team. Jonas Hiller is healthy, unlike last year, and giving the Ducks solid goaltending. And the team has bought in to what Boudreau is selling, which can’t be overlooked.

Since a 3-1 loss to San Jose on Jan. 4, in which they fell to 10-22-6 on the season, the Ducks are 15-3-4. In that time they have not gone more than one game without grabbing a point. But can they continue at this rate?

Through Tuesday’s action, the Ducks sit in 13th place in the conference. If none of the teams currently slotted 8th through 12th pull away from the pack, 91 or 92 points may be enough to grab the eight seed. To get to that 92-point mark, the Ducks would need to accumulate 32 points in their final 22 games – a 1.45 point-per-game pace (in other terms, an estimated record of 15-5-2). In their last 22 games the Ducks have racked up 34 points – a 1.54 point-per-game pace.

It’s certainly doable, but it will be difficult.

When you look at the big picture, the Ducks would have to accumulate 66 points in their final 44 games just to have a realistic chance at making the playoffs (no guarantee). When you extrapolate that over a full 82-game season, it is the equivalent a 123-point campaign.

As an example, let’s take a look at last season’s Devils, who were 10-29-2 on Jan. 8, 2011 and 27 points out of eighth. Over a two-month stretch, the Devils went 23-3-2 and played at an insane 1.71 point-per-game pace. By Mar. 15, they were in 10th place and six points out of eighth. They ran out of gas in mid-March, however, and finished 12 points behind the eighth-place Rangers after going 5-7-1 down the stretch.

The 2009-10 Hurricanes are comparable, as they were underachieving in last place and 17 points removed from a playoff spot on Jan. 20, 2010. They made things interesting by going 12-3-0 in their next 15 games, but ultimately could not keep playing at that torrid pace.

(Another example could be the 2008-09 St. Louis Blues, who actually made the postseason after sitting in last place in the West at the All-Star break. The difference there, however, is that they were nine points out of eighth.)

So can the Ducks maintain their pace and shock the hockey world by making the playoffs after being left for dead in December? The answer may be found in their remaining schedule; on the surface, it doesn’t look overly difficult.

Between the teams currently seeded 7th through 12th in the conference, Boudreau and company will play eight head-to-head games against them, including twice against Los Angeles. If the Ducks win most of those games (and can do so in regulation), they will make up ground a lot easier than when they’re scoreboard watching. Other than those eight games, most contests against contenders will come at home, where the Ducks are 8-1-1 since Jan. 4.

The Ducks are going up against the odds here. SportsClubStats says they currently have a 5% chance to make the playoffs. Just to get to eighth place, they’d have to leapfrog five teams, which is hard to do in the final quarter of the season.

But if any team can do it, it’s the Anaheim Ducks. Last year they tore through the Western Conference, going from 11th to 4th place in the matter of five weeks. What’s to say they can’t do it again?

Photo credit: Getty Images
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