ANAHEIM – You can say the Ducks’ 11-0-3 run to end the season and subsequent four-game sweep of Calgary in the first round were the result of many factors – from the seamless addition of a veteran scorer in his career season, to the depth in defense and goaltending, to the captain who has been the team’s best player.
All good reasons, and there are more beyond those.
Or you could chalk it up to fairy dust.
At a ceremony last month to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2007 Stanley Cup team, Ducks owner Henry Samueli wished for that beloved group to spread some “fairy dust” over the current outfit. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, two of the three remaining active members from that club, smiled – and apparently took their boss’s command to heart.
The Ducks have yet to lose a game in regulation since that March 12 evening. Who would have thought a home win over Washington – a nice win over the NHL’s top team, but just a win – would serve as the launch pad to a push for the Cup that’s become a little more real?
“It’s just a game but it’s something you can use,” Perry said Tuesday, thinking back to that reunion night. “Looking back, that’s kind of where everything sparked. The way we looked at it, we were just trying to get into the playoffs and make ourselves available for a playoff spot.”
Making the playoffs was merely fulfilling an expectation. Making a Cup run is their hope, even their plan. And a path to the silver chalice unexpectedly became clearer.
To a man, the Ducks don’t want to gaze off into the distance beyond the Edmonton Oilers as Game 1 of this best-of-7 playoff series is Wednesday night at Honda Center. They’re set for a back-and-forth battle with a team on the rise that’s out to show it can contend now as well as in the future.
But they also can’t ignore the fact that Chicago, with its three titles in six years, is no longer in that championship picture. San Jose, the reigning Western Conference champion, is also out. So is Minnesota, despite going all-in for a title run at the trade deadline.
The Ducks know their championship window will one day close. Maybe not until it locks. But, in this pressure-packed moment, it may never be more open.
“I think we’ve always known that,” said Andrew Cogliano, a 10-year winger now going against his original team. “It’s not like you’re not trying. It’s not like you don’t want it. It’s a matter of going out and hopefully doing it. Trying to put your best foot forward every game.”
Young players have made an impact for the Ducks, not only in the regular season but so far in the playoffs. But there are the veterans who know they’re running out of chances. Particularly players such as Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa, who accepted trades to Anaheim with the belief that hoisting a Cup was possible.
“There’s definitely a recognition of that,” said Antoine Vermette, who won with Chicago in 2015. “It’s fun. It’s a situation where you want to embrace. It doesn’t come too many times. I was fortunate enough to start in the league with Ottawa. Every year we’d be in the playoffs and you had a chance to compete.
“As a young guy, sometimes you take that for granted even though older guys are telling you that it’s a great opportunity and you got to make sure you enjoy that and make the best out of it.”
But to bring up the possibility that a path to the Cup has been made easier is a taboo subject. Providing an answer that’s in lockstep with that belief might incur the wrath of the hockey gods.
“There’s no point,” said Getzlaf, the Ducks captain, after some initial resistance. “Every team is this playoffs is here for a reason. Every year, everyone goes into the playoffs and says if you make it in, you can win. But then every year somebody gets knocked out and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe they got beat.’
“Everybody’s here for a reason. Nobody’s in the playoffs by mistake.”
Kesler is right in with that line of thinking. To suggest that the absence of Chicago or Minnesota – or even San Jose – has improved the Ducks’ chances would be a fallacy.
“Those teams lost because they weren’t the better team,” Kesler said. “You can’t take anything away from Nashville or St. Louis. Nashville swept Chicago. They were the better team. St. Louis beat Minny in five games.
“For us, we don’t worry about the path. We worry about the Edmonton Oilers and what we need to do to be successful against them. And then whatever team moves on, we’ll look at that.
“We’ll assess that at that time.”
In other words, there was no sigh of relief that emerged from the Ducks when the Blackhawks were bounced in unceremonious fashion. There was no deep breath taken after former coach Bruce Boudreau was handed another early exit, this time with Minnesota. No exhaling at the thought of avoiding Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Co.
“Honestly, I don’t think that crossed anyone’s mind,” Cogliano said. “I really don’t. The teams that are in it – Nashville’s a heck of a team. St. Louis is a great team, Edmonton’s a great team. Whoever you play, I think the teams that are in are in for a reason, to be honest.
“The teams that are still remaining are the best teams. The best teams win. They win their series.”
Each series, the Ducks insist, is its own entity. So while the Ducks’ 15-0-3 run started with an impressive 5-2 spanking of the Capitals – the Cup favorite that’s among the eight left – it won’t have any meaning in the long run if they don’t carry it beyond this round.
“That’s history,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “That’s all over. We got to worry about the next one and the next one is the most important one. That’s the attitude that we’ve taken. We can’t sit on our laurels, we’ve won this and we’ve won that. We haven’t won anything.
“We won the last hockey game. And if you can keep winning the last hockey game, then you’re going to give yourself a nice chance.”
In one sense, it is classic Carlyle coachspeak in throwing cold water over any perception that the Ducks are a runaway train. But in another, he is right in that it should be a more difficult task to eliminate Edmonton. The Oilers proved their worth in handling San Jose in six games, with two of their four wins coming on the road.
When it comes to the Stanley Cup playoffs in this era, nothing can be taken for granted. Or as Vermette said, “You don’t want to get ahead of yourself.”
“A lot of teams right now have to look at themselves and think they should have expected more,” the 13-year center added. “We have something here that certainly gives us a real chance. We want to make sure we make the best out of it.”
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