Yup, they did it again.
The Ducks had a chance Monday to end a playoff series in six games, to spare themselves the possible heartbreak of an anything-can-happen Game 7, and for the fourth time in four playoff appearances they couldn't close the deal.
Their 3-1 loss to the inspired Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena sent their first-round series back to Honda Center for a defining moment for both teams Wednesday. For the Predators, who have won only two playoff series in their franchise history and have never played a Game 7, it's a chance to prove that they belong with the big boys. “You grow up playing in these street hockey games, Game 7s, and you dream of it,” defenseman Shea Weber said. “It's going to be a good time.”
For the Ducks, it's a chance to break a puzzling pattern they've developed the last few seasons. They held a 3-2 series lead over the Detroit Red Wings in the first round in 2013 but lost Game 6 on the road and Game 7 at home, squandered the same lead over the Kings in the same circumstances in the second round in 2014 and completed an ignominious hat trick last spring by losing Game 6 at Chicago and Game 7 at home to the Blackhawks in the West final.
“I don't even want to hear about that. It's another year,” left wing David Perron said, adding that he and many other players weren't with the Ducks for those Game 7 losses. “There's a lot of good teams in this league and we're going to fight to keep playing because it's the best time of the year right now and we do what we love and it's a lot of fun out there.”
Not so enjoyable maybe, when a ticket to a second-round series against the San Jose Sharks slipped through their flailing fingers.
The Ducks haven't won a Game 7 since they defeated the Calgary Flames in the first round in 2006. Since then they've lost four series that went the limit: the second round against Detroit in 2009 and the losses in each of their last three playoff appearances.
Right wing Corey Perry said the team must ignore those past Game 7s now. “You have to,” he said. “That's why we play all year. You want to play for that home ice and that's what we did. We've been solid at home but it's a Game 7. Anything can happen.
“You just go out and play hockey and I think if we do a lot of things that we did in Games 3, 4, 5 we'll be all right. We had a few breakdowns and it cost us.”
The Predators scored first, at 8:10 of the second period, on a terrific move and fine shot by defenseman Mattias Ekholm. The crowd went wild and the Predators dominated play for a time. “I think for the next six or seven minutes after that, it was like we were just sitting there saying, ‘Let's just survive this six or seven minutes and we'll be OK,'” Coach Bruce Boudreau said.
They did. But a shot by Perry that went wide caromed off the boards and led to a counterattack by Nashville, which ended with Ryan Johansen feeding James Neal by the left post at 17:45.
The Ducks cut the Predators' lead to 2-1 at 19:46 of the second period on a power-play goal, with Ryan Kesler lunging to poke the puck behind Pekka Rinne, but that was all the Ducks could muster against Nashville's sturdy defense.
Perry was stopped by Rinne's pad at 13:20 and Perron had a good chance in the final minutes but the Predators clinched it on a goal by Weber at 19:50, with Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen gone in favor of an extra skater.
Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf put an optimistic spin on the team's uncertain state of affairs. “On a positive note, we started two in the hole in our building and if you would have said we would have Game 7 after that, we would have been happy,” he said. “You've got to look at it that way and come out ready to play.”
That rang hollow. After losing the first two games at home and then winning the next three, the Ducks didn't play a gritty enough game to finish off an opponent. They could be history Wednesday, or write a new chapter in their history.
Getzlaf said he didn't plan to offer any words of inspiration. “Nothing really needs to be said. We've got to go out and do it,” he said. “There's no big speech or anything when it comes to Game 7.
“Everybody knows what they're doing. And we've got to go out and execute better than the other group.”
Better, certainly, than in their recent Game 7 performances.