Their effort was sound. They were poised. There was nothing wrong with their game plan. Only their execution could be faulted.
But the Detroit Red Wings refused to perform a belly-flop against the undermanned Ducks, using superior skill and depth to escape with a 2-0 victory Wednesday at the Arrowhead Pond.
The Ducks didn't give them much to work with, but the Red Wings took full advantage of two opportunities to win. Detroit scored on a power-play goal in the first period and again in the third when the defensive-minded Ducks were forced to press forward in search of the tying goal.
Left wing Brent Gilchrist scored Detroit's first goal and center Steve Yzerman had the second.
The Ducks, playing their fourth consecutive game without Selanne, Kariya and newly acquired center Travis Green, got nothing.
Selanne, sidelined for four games because of strained abdominal muscles, is the closest of the three to returning to the lineup. He hopes to practice today and play Friday against the San Jose Sharks.
Green, out for four games because of a groin injury, is shooting to return for Sunday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Kariya's return from post-concussion syndrome by season's end remains in serious doubt. He has missed six games since getting cross-checked in the jaw Feb. 1 by Chicago's Gary Suter.
"I'd like to have at least one full-speed practice with the team," said Selanne, who leads the NHL with 41 goals. "I need a couple of practices where I have to battle [against teammates]. Shooting doesn't bother me. When I skate full speed, it doesn't hurt anymore. It's kind of tender.
"Right now, I'd like to get back quickly. I have to be patient. When I come back, I want to really come back. I don't want to get hurt again after only two games. It's getting better all the time. That's a good sign."
There were others, but simply not enough of them for the Ducks to accomplish the truly unexpected.
The Red Wings, who have tormented the Ducks over the years like no other NHL team in leading the all-time series, 12-3-4, certainly looked ordinary.
The Ducks outplayed the Red Wings in many ways but, without their top three forwards in the lineup, couldn't get any of their 35 shots on goal past Detroit backup goalie Kevin Hodson.
They won all sorts of small battles--in the corners, along the boards and in front of the net. They tightened their defense. They also stayed out of the penalty box for the most part.
And goaltender Mikhail Shtalenkov was superb, particularly when stopping Sergei Fedorov on a breakaway late in the second period.
Detroit settled for a 1-0 lead entering the pivotal third period. The Red Wings' only goal in the first 40 minutes didn't exactly come on an end-to-end rush either.
Gilchrist, a useful player who always seemed to be around the puck Wednesday, was credited with a power-play goal at 14:44 of the first period.
Actually, he didn't do much more to score than stand still. Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom's shot from the blue line struck Gilchrist in the left leg and flew past Shtalenkov.
Lucky, to be sure, but it's just the sort of thing that can separate a playoff team from an also-ran.
Detroit moved the puck from neat the goal line out to the point, and Lidstrom delivered a hard shot from the blue line. It was a textbook play on the power play.
Without Kariya, Selanne and Green in the lineup, the Ducks struggled offensively. That's not to say they didn't have opportunities. They just couldn't finish off their scoring chances.
Tomas Sandstrom, who last season helped the Red Wings to win their first Stanley Cup since 1955, was among the Ducks' best players. He showed an aggressiveness not seen in quite some time.
Matt Cullen, Sean Pronger, Steve Rucchin and Scott Young also played strong games for the Ducks. But they are merely complementary players, usually asked to support scorers like Kariya, Selanne and Green.
By game's end, the Ducks had no one to keep pace with the likes of Yzerman and Fedorov.