This is it. The game the Mighty Ducks have been waiting to play.
This is -- together now, in the key of G -- the most important game of the season.
Coach Mike Babcock said so ... over and over and over again. Ah, but this time, that rap has soul.
Look deep into his eyes ...
“Every night is the most important game,” Babcock said repeatedly Tuesday.
... you are getting sleepy ...
The Ducks play the Dallas Stars tonight in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals at the Arrowhead Pond, the same Stars who ended the Ducks’ six-game playoff winning streak.
... important ...
A Duck victory sends this movable feast back to Dallas with the Ducks leading the best-of-seven series, 3-1. A loss has them as the entree, with the series tied.
... important ...
No other game will be as important as this one ... at least in the next 24 hours.
“Babs came into the dressing room before the first game of the season and goes, ‘Boys, this is the most important game of the season,’ ” Duck goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. “We were all looking at each other like, ‘What?’ That’s how it has been every game, all season. That becomes a part of you after a while. That becomes your mental edge. We really bought into that after Christmas. We knew it had to be that way if we wanted to make the playoffs.”
Deprogramming is out of the question at this point. The Ducks need that single-mindedness, even more so after Monday’s disappointing 2-1 loss.
The Stars went into that game talking about being desperate. They came out of it feeling as if they have been down this road before.
“That win put us in the same position as we were in [in the first round] against Edmonton,” Dallas Coach Dave Tippett said. “We’re down, 2-1, and facing a critical game in Game 4.”
So what happens when each team is playing its most important game of the season?
“Being scared is a great thing,” Babcock said. “You have a little bit of fear and it can really get you going.
“We were too loose [Monday]. We didn’t have that competitiveness, the willingness to climb over the other guy to get the puck.”
Of course, the Ducks have dealt with adversity in the playoffs already this season. They dealt with it by winning. Monday, they didn’t.
“We could have been up 3-0 instead of 2-1,” right wing Steve Thomas said. “Now we have to play a whole lot better. Maybe we were thinking we were the cat’s [meow]. We were a little big for our britches. That game brought us down to earth.”
The victory gave the Stars a bouncier step. “Under Pressure,” by David Bowie and Queen, blared from their dressing room Tuesday, loud enough to be heard down the hall in the Ducks’ room.
“We definitely don’t want to go back to Dallas down, 3-1, just like we didn’t want to go down, 3-0,” Star center Jason Arnott said. “We had some zip in that game. We played desperate [Monday] night. We need to again.”
The Stars went into Monday’s game talking not only about bursting the Ducks’ bubble, but about blowing a little smoke as well, at least in Duck eyes.
Center Mike Modano complained about the officiating, uttering the now well-traveled quote, “Our arms look like we’re heroin addicts from the slashes and hooks.”
Modano, who was booed by Duck fans, said he was much happier with Monday’s officiating.
Duck General Manager Bryan Murray was less enthralled, saying that Modano’s comments had a not-so-subtle message. He put his feelings to pen, on the notepad he doodles on during games.
“Up in the right-hand corner on my pad I wrote, '[Complaining] does pay off,’ ” Murray said.
“They were more physical than we were and the penalties, for whatever reason, were even.”
The Stars also were more active Monday, and goalie Marty Turco made the big saves ... at least a few more than Giguere, anyway. The Ducks had to try to come from behind a second consecutive game, and this time, they were not up to the task.
“Everything is magnified in the playoffs,” Duck captain Paul Kariya said. “You lose a game, it’s big. If you win one, it’s big. But even the small things are magnified.”
And that’s what makes tonight’s game important.
“Do we want to be up, 3-1, or go back to Dallas, 2-2?” Giguere said. “It’s up to us to make that decision. This game is huge.”
Giguere smiled and said, “It’s the most important game of the season.”