DALLAS — The captain is hurt, the goalie is shaken, old demons are at the door.
The top-seeded Ducks are now in a three-game fight for survival against an energetic, upset-minded Dallas Stars team that roared back Wednesday for a 4-2 victory to tie the Western Conference first-round playoff series at two games apiece.
“It’s all about us and our execution,” Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said. “We’re lying if we tell ourselves we’ve played our best hockey in any one of these four games. … We have to take ownership of that, go back home and sort it all out.”
That effort will start with the medical evaluation of Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim’s team leader who was deemed unable Wednesday morning to play Game 4 because of an upper-body injury that Coach Bruce Boudreau said was aggravated in Monday’s Game 3 loss.
Boudreau said the Ducks missed Getzlaf “everywhere” Wednesday. “He’s one of the elite players in the NHL. You miss him in the offensive zone, on the boards, as a leader.”
Getzlaf boarded an afternoon flight back to Southern California on Wednesday to seek immediate treatment the team hopes will allow him to play in Game 5 Friday night at Honda Center.
In his absence — and that of forward Teemu Selanne (healthy scratch) — the Ducks still took a 2-0 lead through the first period on goals by defenseman Bryan Allen and forward Patrick Maroon, deflating the sellout American Airlines Center crowd.
“The most perfect first period you could ever ask for,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said.
Yet, Dallas responded with two goals in the first 6:33 of the second period.
First, Stars forward Jamie Benn won a faceoff, collected the puck and beat Ducks rookie goalie Frederik Andersen to his right 27 seconds into the period.
The Stars outshot Anaheim, 16-3, in the second and Andersen let in the tying goal when Dallas forward Vernon Fiddler sent the 18,962 in attendance into a frenzy.
“It’s tough when that momentum starts building against you in an opposing building,” Cogliano said. “Four unanswered goals just can’t happen.”
Andersen said the Fiddler goal was “my fault,” and his status for Game 5 was to be debated by Boudreau and assistants on the Ducks’ flight home because he was replaced by regular-season primary starter Jonas Hiller after yielding two more goals in the first 7:44 of the third.
“The last 40 was as hard as the boys could go,” Dallas Coach Lindy Ruff said. “They emptied the tank.”
Stars center Cody Eakin broke the tie 6:22 in by outracing Rickard Rakell to the goal and one-timing a shot past Andersen. Eighty-two seconds later, Dallas defenseman Alex Goligoski blasted another one past the rookie who won 20 regular-season games.
“Got to be able to hang on to that kind of lead,” Andersen said. “They came out of nowhere in the second. We weren’t ready for their push. We weren’t able to finish the job. When you’ve got a team down like that, you’ve got to finish them off.”
The fact that problem lingers following last year’s disappointing first-round, seven-game playoff exit against seventh-seeded Detroit heightens the anxiety for players and Boudreau, who’s trying to avoid a fourth first-round elimination of a first-place team in the past seven years.
The Ducks managed only 12 of their 23 total shots in the final two periods, and were left to seek out Dallas instigators Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel, with Ducks forward Corey Perry tossing Garbutt to the ice and punching Roussel in the face.
Roussel threw a Monday punch at Getzlaf’s stitched-up face while Garbutt slid into and broke the right leg of Ducks defenseman Stephane Robidas, who attended Wednesday’s game and said he’d accepted Garbutt’s apology.
Robidas, in discussing his lost opportunity for a playoff run with Anaheim, had tears well in his eyes. Is more widespread heartache coming?
“We’ve fought awful hard to get home-ice advantage — we had the second-best home record in the league — so we’re going home and we’re glad to be home,” Boudreau said.