DALLAS — The Ducks have been here before, and not just in the physical sense.
Of course they've been to American Airlines Center, where they lost the third and fourth games of their playoff series against the Dallas Stars and surrendered the edge they'd earned by winning the first two games at home. But by overpowering Dallas, 6-2, at Honda Center on Friday, the Ducks took a 3-2 series lead and moved into position to close out the series Sunday.
They've been there, too, needing a road win to wrap up a playoff series, but didn't do it.
It was just last season. They were the No. 2 seed in the West and needed to beat the No. 7 Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena to advance. Maybe anticipating victory but unwilling to pay the price, they lost in overtime. Suddenly unsure of themselves, they completed their pratfall with a flat, failed effort in Game 7 at home.
From that loss came their slogan for this season, "Unfinished Business." But they need to gain more from that unhappy ending than a saying that looks good imprinted on a T-shirt.
The Ducks are deeper and better equipped for a long postseason run than they were a year ago, and they went into the playoffs with a better record and better rhythm than they did last spring. What they must prove Sunday is that they've taken something positive from that early exit and are better equipped mentally to go the distance.
"It's an expensive lesson," Coach Bruce Boudreau said Saturday after the Ducks arrived in Dallas and held team meetings.
"In that game, we ended up losing in overtime but we didn't play a great game. And I think after we won Game 5 we thought, 'OK, now we're going to win because we're only one game away,' and forgetting the hardest game to win is the fourth one. When you corner a bear or whatever, they fight the hardest.
"So that experience, with most of the guys that were here last year, I hope works for [Sunday], that we don't want to wait for a seventh game if we can help it."
The Ducks see themselves as a championship team, and at times it's easy to agree with that assessment. This is the moment for them to play like one by seizing the chance to finish this series as quickly as possible.
Veteran center Saku Koivu spent a lot of time trying to figure out what went wrong in that Detroit series. His conclusion was the Ducks gave themselves an out, maybe subconsciously, by thinking they had that seventh game at home to fall back on. Now, all they should be thinking of is duplicating the effort they mustered Friday, when they set the pace and the tone and their persistent forechecking rattled the Stars into fumble-fingered mistakes.
"I don't think we played bad here but there are certain things we have to improve in order to win — and not think about, 'There is another game at home.' Just be ready," Koivu said. "The first period is going to be key. Just have all the focus and the energy on [Sunday's] game and not think about yeah, there is another game after that at home, but do everything we can to close it."
That goes to consistency, a trait not always among the Ducks' greatest assets. Defenseman Cam Fowler said the unwavering effort behind the team's success Friday will be essential again Sunday.
"I liked the way we played, how we kept the same effort throughout the game and kept putting the pressure on," he said. "At times in this series we've had the lead and we've had a tendency to kind of sit back and let them dictate the play. But we were up one goal going into the third, and before you know it, we were up two or three. That's the mind-set that we want to have. We want to continue to push the pace, and I thought we did a good job of that."
Push themselves, push the pace and they're more likely to push on to the next round without taking their chances in a Game 7.
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