The common thread that linked the Ducks’ latest Game 7 playoff exit to their Game 7 loss last season and the season before that — and the season before that — was obvious.
“It was almost the mentality was they weren’t going out to win, they were going out not to lose, and you can’t play hockey that way. You cannot,” General Manager Bob Murray said Friday. “That’s just the group, and it was very disturbing to watch.”
It was distressing enough for him to fire Coach Bruce Boudreau, who had guided the Ducks from the pits of the Pacific Division in December to their fourth straight division title only to squander a 3-2 series lead and lose Game 7 at home for the fourth straight season. Murray, angrier over the way his team went out against the Nashville Predators than over the loss itself, couldn’t let that pattern continue.
“They weren’t ready to give what the other team was ready to give. And that’s what the problem is,” Murray said of his players. “I’d like to know where the heck they were in Games 1 and 2 [losses at home]….The players are going to have to answer that in the next four or five days. Where were they? They showed up for Game 7 but where was that passion, the controlled emotion? Where the heck was that? They’re going to have to be held accountable too.”
Good questions. Here’s another: What if Boudreau wasn’t their biggest problem?
Some of the responsibility for this nearly unfathomable streak of playoff failures rests on Boudreau, whose Game 7 record is 1-7 with the Washington Capitals and the Ducks. Does he become too nervous and communicate that anxiety to players? Does he become tentative in his decision-making, leading them to become tentative on the ice?
However, Boudreau did an excellent job in turning the Ducks around after a dreadful start this season, transforming them into a top-notch defensive team that allowed the fewest goals in the league and boasted the best power play and penalty killing. He will get another NHL job, and soon. “I’m sure he’ll be better the next time,” Murray said, but that time won’t be with the Ducks.
The Predators were fearless and aggressive, correctly counting on the Ducks becoming hesitant. The Ducks lost this series when they came out flat at home in Game 1 and didn’t compete hard enough in Game 6. They were more competitive in their 2-1 loss in Game 7, “but they didn’t get the result they wanted because they put themselves in a position for a very good goaltender to beat them, and he did,” Murray said of Nashville’s Pekka Rinne.
They shouldn’t have put themselves in so precarious a position, not with a team full of world-class players, Olympic medalists, two Stanley Cup winners — Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf — and others who had played in a Cup Final. There should have been a sense of purpose and calm determination. Leadership didn’t have to be yelled in a rah-rah speech — it could have come by example and been just as effective, but that never happened.
Perry had no goals in the series and was invisible until he got a few good scoring chances in the third period of Game 7. The defense was jumbled and not as effective without injured Josh Manson. Ryan Kesler was their best player by far, his fire never dimming while his teammates’ ferocity flickered.
Murray said he’s comfortable with Getzlaf as the team’s captain, adding Getzlaf has to deal with “different personalities. … I’m not at the point of doing anything crazy in that direction.” But Murray did say he would discuss that leadership role with the next coach.
It’s easier to fire the coach than get rid of players, especially those who have long, expensive contracts and no-move or no-trade clauses. Murray vowed to hand out fewer such deals even if that makes the Ducks less competitive in the open market, but he can’t undo what’s done.
“I think the core has to be held responsible and they have to be better,” he said. “Maybe I haven’t been hard enough on them in the last few years, but they’re going to hear some different words this time.”
Anything to ensure their last words next season aren’t about another early playoff exit.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen