ANAHEIM — When General Manager Bob Murray re-hired Randy Carlyle last June 14 to replace the recently fired Bruce Boudreau as the Ducks’ coach, all of Duckdom seemed to react with a loud and extended chorus of boos on social media and elsewhere.
“Are we getting back together with an old girlfriend?”
“Are we going to play boring dump-and-chase hockey?”
“Who are we trying to be, the Kings?”
Dire predictions of a disaster on the ice never materialized, though. Carlyle pushed all the right buttons at all the right times and the Ducks won their fifth consecutive Pacific Division championship before defeating the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Now, the Ducks are halfway to winning a second Stanley Cup title with Carlyle as coach.
Murray resisted the urge to gloat and say, “I told you so,” when given a chance Thursday, one day before the Ducks play host to the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Friday at Honda Center. Murray wouldn’t say he felt vindicated.
“I don’t look at it that way,” he said.
Instead, Murray praised Carlyle and the players for propelling the Ducks to their second conference finals in three seasons. Murray was especially impressed with the Ducks’ determination in their Game 7 victory Wednesday over the Oilers, when they rallied from a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1.
“This group has learned, and you’ve got to give them all the credit in the world,” Murray said.
Carlyle’s in-game adjustments have paid dividends so far in the playoffs, but particularly during the series against the Oilers, a marked difference from Boudreau’s tenure, which ended last spring after a fourth Game 7 loss at Honda Center in as many seasons.
Carlyle shifted Jakob Silfverberg onto the Ducks’ top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and Silfverberg scored the winner in overtime in Game 4. Carlyle then slotted Nick Ritchie onto the Getzlaf-Perry line late in Game 7, and Ritchie scored the game-winner in the third period.
“Well, as I said when we hired Randy, we always knew that Randy is an excellent bench coach and I think throughout the series, I think him and Todd (McLellan, the Oilers’ coach,) had a great duel of bench coaches. They both made adjustments, tired to make adjustments.
“I think Randy did a heck of a job.”
BIEKSA, EAVES IMPROVE
Kevin Bieksa is “very close, very, very close,” Murray said of the veteran defenseman’s possible return to the lineup from a lower-body injury. Bieksa has skated with the Ducks the last few days, but didn’t play in their victory Wednesday in Game 7 against the Oilers.
Patrick Eaves walked around the Ducks’ dressing room without the aid of crutches, according to Murray and joined his teammates for an off-ice workout. Eaves has sat out the past four games because of an injured left leg and had been using crutches.
“He’s a ways away yet, but the therapy he’s doing and the people he’s working with, it’s coming along,” Murray said. “I have hope. For a while, I just thought that was it. But I have hope now that we’re going to see him again at some point (in the playoffs).”
WINNING BUT LOSING
The Ducks suffered a key loss by advancing to the conference finals. They acquired Eaves from the Dallas Stars for a conditional second-round draft pick in February, but the pick became a first-round selection when the Ducks advanced to the conference finals and Eaves played in half their games.
Murray said it was worthwhile to pay the price in the form of a first-round pick to acquire Eaves, who had 11 goals in 20 regular-season games and two more in seven postseason contests before he was injured. Eaves is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“Patrick has a huge effect on the organization,” Murray said.
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