If it were up to first-year defenseman Kurt Sauer's family, the Mighty Ducks would play the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference finals, scheduled to start Saturday.
Not because the Ducks have a 6-5-1 record against Minnesota, compared to 13-24-9-1 against Vancouver. And not because the Canucks have two of the NHL's top five regular-season scorers, Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi, whereas the Wild didn't have a scorer among the league's top 25.
The Sauers would love the Ducks' opponent to be the Wild because Kurt is the only Duck from Minnesota.
"When it comes down to Vancouver or Minnesota, they are rooting for Minnesota, big time," said Sauer, who has a plus-five rating in the playoffs while averaging 22 minutes and 10 seconds of ice time. "That would be a great matchup for my family."
Sauer, however, just wants the Ducks to keep on winning, no matter which team they play.
"Last year, I was watching [the Stanley Cup playoffs] on TV, and now, I'm playing in it," he said. "It's just too much to comprehend.... I have the whole summer to do that and don't need to have that start anytime soon, especially being one of the younger guys. When you're a veteran, you've been through some stuff and your experiences help you out. But this is all new for me.
"I don't want to sit down and try to comprehend it all. If I do that, by the time I did that, the next series would have already started. So I'm just trying to live day by day and focus in on the present."
One thing that didn't take Sauer long to figure out was the difference between the regular season and playoffs. Before joining the Ducks, Sauer played in 29 postseason games over three seasons with Spokane of the Western Hockey League.
"The [NHL] playoffs are much different because you have everyone working hard with every line contributing," he said. "That's not the case in the regular season, when you can jump on a couple of people's backs and they carry you. In the playoffs, you never know who is going to step up. You can throw guys out there to eliminate key guys because of line changes and matchups, so you have to have your whole team working together."
In Monday's series-clinching 4-3 victory over Dallas, veteran Steve Thomas scored the Ducks' first goal early in the second period after a great second-effort play by Steve Rucchin to keep the puck in the Stars' zone. That type of exertion has become a staple for the Ducks in the playoffs.
"There's no better time for everyone to be contributing and playing their best hockey," Rucchin said. "To have everyone give second efforts and working their hardest is obviously great. We're relying on guys you would never think we'd be relying on."
General Manager Bryan Murray receives lots of credit for trades he made to bolster the Ducks' lineup, which include the acquisitions of Sandis Ozolinsh, Adam Oates, Petr Sykora and Thomas. But one of his best moves might have been one he didn't make.
When the Ducks sent Samuel Pahlsson to the minors at the start of the season and he returned to Sweden after a short stay with Cincinnati of the American Hockey League, Murray refused to grant Pahlsson his release to play in the Swedish Elite League.
"Teams contacted me from Sweden but I wouldn't let him play," Murray said. "I said, 'I don't care if he sits out for two years. He's not playing for any other organization unless I trade him.' ... Thank goodness that I did that because when he finally realized that I wasn't going to let that happen, he came back with urgency to his game."
Pahlsson has been the defensive force playing on a line with Stanislav Chistov and Thomas in the playoffs. In 10 games, Pahlsson has one goal and three points and a plus-three rating.
Tickets for the conference finals go on sale Thursday, starting at 10 a.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Arrowhead Pond or through Ticketmaster. Information: (877) 945-3946.