In reaching the Western Conference finals this season, the Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks traced their strong resolve to the disappointment they endured last season, when each was sent home by the eventual-Stanley Cup champion Kings.
The Ducks fell to the Kings in the seventh game of the second round despite owning home-ice advantage, a defeat that led them to consider the importance of small details and add depth up the middle and on defense. The Blackhawks lost to the Kings in the West finals in overtime of the seventh game, at home. That defeat, which ended Chicago's reign as Stanley Cup champion, led the Blackhawks to focus on the moment and not letting opportunities slip away.
So far, the Blackhawks seem to have learned their lessons more proficiently, as evidenced by the 5-4 double-overtime victory at a rollicking United Center that enabled them to tie the West finals at two games each.
Barely three minutes after giving up three goals to the Ducks in a 37-second blitz in the third period and facing the possibility of a 3-1 series deficit, the Blackhawks pulled even on a power-play goal by Patrick Kane and prevailed when Antoine Vermette converted his own rebound five minutes and 37 seconds into the second sudden-death period. The Blackhawks are 4-0 in overtime in the playoffs; the Ducks are 2-3, including their triple-overtime loss to the Blackhawks in Game 2.
"They're good in overtime. They know how to win. I think that's simple. It's just simple," Ducks winger Andrew Cogliano said. "They know what to do in those situations. We've got to get better at it."
They were almost good enough, but not quite. Chicago's comeback win made the Ducks' three-goal spree a secondary note. "It was pretty special," Cogliano said almost wistfully of the flurry that gave the Ducks a 4-3 lead. "It would have been a nice story to win because of that."
The better story belonged to Vermette, a gritty center who had been a healthy scratch in Game 3 for reasons no one could fully understand.
Coach Joel Quenneville restored him to the lineup Saturday and was rewarded when Vermette won 14 of 20 faceoffs before scoring the decisive goal.
"I'm glad he finished it for us," Quenneville said. "That was a huge goal for us. Huge, goal, huge."
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said after Saturday's morning skate that his team had taken its loss to the Kings last season to heart and would be the better for it.
"I think you can definitely think of when we went down three games to one and kind of relive the feeling of being in that moment where for a second you feel like you're losing hope but then you regain your focus and say, 'Hey, we've just got to go out there and win the next game, and that's all we need to worry about,'" he said before the game. "Boom, the next thing you know, you're in Game 7. It can go either way. You never know until the end. We focus on one task at a time."
He said the Blackhawks would treat Saturday's game "as our Game 7," adding, "we'll go out there and play our best game of the series and find a way to win and put ourselves in the spot we want to be."
Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf had said the other day that his team had learned the value of consistency and paying attention to even the smallest details.
"I think it's more of a mind-set that you figure out that that little play matters, that little chip matters, taking the hit to make a play, getting the puck deep so you can make a good line change," he said. "Those things are very minor when you look at them individually but on the scale of a game, when you're talking about not making mistakes in a Game 7, those are part of them."
They made enough mistakes to endure another maddening overtime loss but maintained a positive outlook. "We've had a lot of great possession time, great plays. There's a lot of guys doing the right things," right wing Corey Perry said. "We just keep doing the same things over and over again, we're going to wear them down. And as the series moves on it's beneficial for us."
Their plan to wear down Chicago's defense doesn't seem to be working. Duncan Keith played 40:39 and Niklas Hjalmarsson played 39:13, but neither appeared tired.
"Even though they won tonight, those guys are out there a lot," Cogliano said, "and hopefully we'll be on our home ice and make them play defense. They're elite defensemen and we've got to make them work."
More important, the Ducks must make those painful lessons from last spring work better for them as the series goes on.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen