The Ducks say there's a sense of urgency behind their approach to the playoffs this spring, and there should be. After exiting the playoffs in the same fashion each of the past four seasons — by losing a Game 7 at home after taking a 3-2 series lead — their window to win the Stanley Cup with a leadership group headed by thirtysomethings Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa might be closing fast.
Still, that's not the overriding motivation they brought into their first-round series against the Calgary Flames this spring. The calm but resolute approach they took in winning the opener and planned to stick with in Game 2 Saturday night at Honda Center was born from a feeling that they're tired of falling short of their own expectations and ready to change that.
"It's the urgency that we've been fairly close and we've had good seasons. We've had good playoffs but we've never taken the next step. I think that's the only sense of urgency we have in terms of being a team that wants to get to that point of playing for a championship," left wing Andrew Cogliano said.
"I don't think we think, 'Oh, man, we've got to do it this year because we've got older guys.' I think it's more we're a proud group and we've had good seasons, and we have a good team and we've taken a lot of steps together and we think we deserve to keep pushing to that next level."
For right wing Jakob Silfverberg, the Ducks' ability to overcome a slow start showed character that will help them now. The Ducks were 18-12-8 in late December but grew stronger and finished the regular season with an 11-0-3 points streak.
"We've had some ups and downs and we've always managed to find a way to battle back. I really think this is a group that can do it," he said. "And I don't know how many times you get that opportunity. So definitely this is an opportunity that we're going to have to take, and we took a step in the right direction [Friday]."
Another key difference for the Ducks this season is the presence of Coach Randy Carlyle, who replaced Bruce Boudreau not long after the Ducks squandered a 3-2 series lead over the Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs last spring. Carlyle is known as a strong bench manager who gets matchups he likes and can think clearly under duress.
He's still as demanding as he was in his first stint with the Ducks — which included guiding them to the 2007 Cup championship before his abrasiveness took a toll — but he's more willing to communicate with players now instead of dictating his terms.
Players have picked up on his new calmness, and that could be an important factor in a rugged series. His experience also figures to be an edge: Carlyle entered this series with 69 games of NHL playoff coaching experience, while Flames Coach Glen Gulutzan was making his NHL postseason coaching debut.
"I think the most important thing I learned is just be a facilitator and don't be involved in the emotions of it as you normally would," Carlyle said after the Ducks' morning skate Saturday. "We're all playing the game to some sort, but you have no effect on what's happening. I'm a yeller and a screamer and I'm all of those things and I've tried to become a very quiet guy and it's still hard for me.
"I write it down on my card: 'Calm down. Settle down. Leave it alone.' Because I can't play the game for them. But when you're in that situation, where you've been that for a number of years as a player, and you were always involved to that level, it was difficult to step back and away from it. I think the more the pressure goes up, the quieter you have to become."