Minutes from revisiting a script that has so often ended in heartbreak, Coach Bruce Boudreau and his Ducks flipped it.
With two goals Sunday in the final 130 seconds of regulation to tie the score, the Ducks proceeded to eliminate the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the Western Conference first-round series on Nick Bonino's goal early in overtime. In other words, no Game 7 pressure this time.
When the Ducks were upset by Detroit in seven games last May, it marked the third time in seven years a Boudreau team won a division title and then bowed out in the first round — all via seven-game torment. The coach, who directed the Washington Capitals from 2007-11, is 1-4 in Game 7s.
"I just didn't want to go to Game 7," Boudreau said Monday, when he gave the West's top-seeded team the day off to rest for a looming all-California series against the winner of the Kings-San Jose Sharks' series. The Conference semifinals will open at Honda Center later this week.
Boudreau said his adverse feeling for Game 7 was not based on his demons, but a desire to continue boosting the Ducks' brand in Southern California while pursuing a grander mission.
"We never talk about winning one round … we hope to have bigger goals than that, quite frankly," Boudreau said.
On the personal level, Boudreau, making his third second-round appearance in six seasons, said: "People can make all the assumptions they want about me not getting past [the second] round, but there's been lots of good reasons.
"I've lost, but I have a great support group of friends. When I go home [in the off-season to Hershey, Pa., and Toronto], all my friends are the people I've been hanging with for 30 years. It's never about what I did today … I get over it that way, and then I regear myself for the next year, because it's exciting — every start of the year."
This one particularly. Including Sunday's game, the thrill for the Ducks has been ongoing, with accomplishments and story lines that exude a feeling that this ride is different for the coach.
In the final season for 43-year-old Teemu Selanne and also possibly for veteran center Saku Koivu, the Ducks have posted 28 comeback wins and set team records for goals, overall victories, and home and road wins.
"I don't think that way," Boudreau said of the idea forces are aligning. "When you have a good group of guys that don't want to give up, these things can always happen. This is a genuinely good group with a great mix of youth and age. They push each other."
Sunday, for instance, Selanne had two key assists in regulation and a team-best five shots on goal.
"Teemu going back in time like he was 25, the happiness on the guys' faces after the tying goal," were Sunday's take-away moments, Boudreau said. "Teemu played like our total leader, his best game of the year. He was single-handedly getting opportunities, setting up plays. That was a great moment for him and I hope he has a couple more."
When Corey Perry was flipped over by Dallas defenseman Alex Goligoski with less than seven minutes remaining, the American Airlines Center sold-out crowd roared its appreciation and launched into a jeering chorus as if the Ducks' fate was sealed.
Perry's response was to deliver assists on the Ducks' two late goals in regulation, not knowing until told by reporters that he tipped the puck in the crease to 21-year-old rookie Devante Smith-Pelly, who forced overtime with 24 seconds left in regulation.
"I might've poked it; [the puck] was just sitting there, with a lot of sticks," said Perry, who was just 22 when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007.
"Kids don't know any better; they just go out and play," Perry said of Smith-Pelly's two-goal Game 6.
In the second round, the Ducks will either have a first playoff date against a Kings team they beat four of five times this season, or battle San Jose, which was 3-2 against the Ducks.
"We'll just take what happens," Boudreau said. "Every game we played [against those teams] was real tough. The least you can expect is a loud crowd."
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