The nerves, uncertainty and inconsistent play that caused the Ducks' Game 7 defeat to the Detroit Red Wings last May were used as motivation — by personnel men, coaches and players alike — to ensure this year would be different.
Tonight at Honda Center, against the Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, is the ultimate test of Anaheim's upgrades.
"The feeling is different now," Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said Thursday, when asked to compare the team's current mood with its pregame sentiment on May 12, 2013, when the veteran, lower-seeded Red Wings eliminated the Ducks, 3-2, in Anaheim.
"There's no reason to be nervous. We've laid it all on the line this year. We've come back from 2-0 in this series ... To have one game to go to the conference finals is special; guys want to take advantage of it."
Amid the increased chatter about hockey in Southern California, dotted by the rival orange and black car flags waving along the freeways, the Ducks can one-up the Kings and stay in pursuit of winning the Stanley Cup a second time.
"This is exciting," Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "We're not pouting in the room" over Wednesday's 2-1 Game 6 loss at Staples Center. "We knew this Kings team was not going to be an easy out."
As much as the Ducks sought to avoid the tension of Game 7 — they're only a slight betting favorite in Las Vegas despite home teams going 91-63 in the playoffs — there is a fitting feel to face that challenge again.
It made General Manager Bob Murray more committed to bringing team toughness (physical and mental), stirring team bonding built around the idea of "unfinished business" and providing a valued experience.
"We're in a different place," said Bruce Boudreau, who is 1-4 in Game 7s, with all of the losses at home, and added he and the Ducks are "due" to break through. "Last year, we never thought we were as good as Detroit. It was, 'How are we going to beat this team?' Going through it will make us better suited to go through [Friday]."
The series winner will meet the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks beginning Sunday at noon Pacific time, either at Honda Center, or in Chicago if the Kings win.
The showdown is happening, the Ducks said, mostly because they went zero for five in man-advantage situations in Game 6, mustering just six shots at Kings standout goalie Jonathan Quick.
"Last night, we spoke about playing to not make mistakes [and how] that hurts us," Lovejoy said. "We can't play a passive game. We did. The results speak for themselves."
One of the more unsightly performances was that of Ducks first-line center Ryan Getzlaf, who had no shots on goal and lost 14 of 20 faceoffs after contributing four goals and 10 assists in his first 10 playoff games. Getzlaf was loose Thursday, jokingly sticking his head into a group of reporters speaking to Lovejoy.
"Ryan has a lot of pride," Boudreau said. "I'm not worried about Ryan Getzlaf. He will play the best game he possibly can."
The Kings will try to exploit the most inexperienced Duck, 20-year-old goalie John Gibson, who let a decisive "soft" goal by Trevor Lewis trickle underneath him in the second period Wednesday. It was Gibson's first loss after two playoff wins and five NHL victories.
"We'd have liked to close it out, but we had two chances to win," Gibson said. "I've just got to go out and make the saves to give us the chance to win. I'm confident if I give them the chance to win, they'll score some goals for me and we'll win. We have another chance."
So far, confidence has been with the team that has scored first, that goal leading to every victory.
"We figured all along it'd be a long series," Getzlaf said. "Our group has put things aside all season and moved on. So let's do that. We can't be afraid to lose. We have to play hard. It's all about poise, calming yourself down and playing the game. It's do or die, but you control your emotions."
Easier said than done?
As the Ducks know well, Game 7 reveals the truth.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times