When Corey Perry was 21 and a quietly observant NHL rookie, he played a supporting role as the Ducks reached the 2006 Western Conference finals. The following season, Perry and linemate Ryan Getzlaf led the team in playoff scoring but still deferred to the leadership of veterans Chris Pronger, Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer as the dominating Ducks won the Stanley Cup.
Not a bad start to a career — and ample reason for Perry to believe every season would be like those, infused with personal and team success.
Although the tenacious right wing has become a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Canada and was voted the NHL's most valuable player for the 2010-11 season after scoring a league-leading 50 goals, the Ducks haven't had another long playoff run since those two seasons. The success Perry thought would last a while has been impossible to recapture.
"That's the way you think, but this is one of the hardest trophies to win," Perry said Friday. "You think you can have a shot at it each and every year but it just doesn't happen that way. Since then we've missed the playoffs twice and never got out of the second round.
"It's tough. It's a test of everything. You've got to be ready to play every night."
Perry was ferociously ready to play Thursday, when the top-seeded Ducks opened the playoffs with a 4-2 victory over the eighth-seeded Winnipeg Jets at Honda Center. Perry scored two goals and assisted on the other two, setting a personal mark for points in a playoff game and tying a franchise record set by Joffrey Lupul (four goals) in 2006 and matched by Andy McDonald (three goals, one assist) in 2007.
Perry's four-point performance also represented twice as many points as he scored in the Ducks' 2013 first-round playoff loss to Detroit, one of many disappointments they have experienced since 2007.
His productive start, he said, "was definitely nice. If it does go a couple games where you're not scoring it builds up and then you start hearing it all over again. It was nice to get on the score sheet but hopefully we can just keep doing it again."
For the Ducks to make a deep playoff push this spring, Perry and Getzlaf will have to continue to lead, and not just in points. Youngsters during the 2007 Cup run, Perry and Getzlaf — who will each turn 30 next month — are now the veterans whose guidance will shape the team's temperament and its playoff fate.
There's no Pronger to snarl at teammates to motivate them or crack a joke to break the tension in the locker room. There's no Niedermayer to set a standard for smooth, smart play and strong work ethic. The retirement of Selanne and classy center Saku Koivu have put Perry and Getzlaf at the emotional center of the team, roles they have been easing into for a while.
"They kind of took over the last, I would say, four, five years," defenseman Francois Beauchemin — the third current Duck who played on the 2007 Cup team — said of Getzlaf and Perry. "When you get past 25 and you've been in the league for five, six, seven years, you're kind of included in that leadership group. You want to lead by example."
It is Perry and Getzlaf's team, though Perry insisted otherwise.
"You could say that, but at the same time we're just trying to prove ourselves. We're just going out to play hockey," he said. "Our play on the ice dictates how we want to be in here and everybody's saying it's our team, yeah, but there's a lot of other guys in this room that have done a lot of good things and played in big games and they help a lot as well."
Perry had a good start this season, collecting 11 goals and 15 points in his first 13 games before being felled by the mumps virus that hit several teams. "I finally started to fully recover and get my energy back and then I got hurt," he said of a knee sprain he suffered Dec. 5 at Minnesota. "Once I came back and got over the injury, everything started to fall into place."
In 67 regular-season games, Perry scored a team-leading 33 goals to rank 10th in the NHL. His final goal, on April 1, was his 600th NHL point; with a total of 602 he ranks fourth in Ducks history behind Selanne (988), Getzlaf (678) and Paul Kariya (669).
But what's driving Perry now, what inspired him to persevere and score the tying and go-ahead goals Thursday after getting in the Jets' heads and into the space around their net, is the sense it's time for the Ducks to be the powerful playoff team they were in his first two seasons.
"At the end of the day, you don't know how many times you get to kick the can," he said. "You have an opportunity to do it, you've got to put your best foot forward. And this is a great opportunity."