The Ducks visited this picturesque resort town to relax, but Coach Bruce Boudreau made sure they didn’t get too comfortable.
After giving them a day to decompress following the 4-3 overtime loss that gave the spunky Calgary Flames a foothold in the teams’ Western Conference semifinal playoff series, Boudreau threw a few curves at his players Thursday. Changing the personnel on the third and fourth lines isn’t a major shake-up and there’s no guarantee the reconfigured lines will reappear Friday in Game 4 at the Scotiabank Saddledome, but the intent of his moves was clear.
If you can’t or won’t forecheck energetically, if you prefer to let opponents come at you instead of taking the initiative, you might lose your job to someone willing to do those things. The depth the Ducks accumulated through a flurry of trades leading up to the deadline has given Boudreau the most effective weapon a coach can wield — the ability to award or limit playing time. He’s ready to use it after the Ducks’ series lead was cut to 2-1.
“Sometimes,” he said, “you send messages in a subtle way and make sure guys are getting back to where they can play.”
The third line in a rigorous, battle-drill-filled practice at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Center had Tomas Fleischmann replacing Kyle Palmieri on right wing with Andrew Cogliano and Rickard Rakell.
The fourth line featured Jiri Sekac on left wing instead of Emerson Etem, alongside Nate Thompson and Tim Jackman. The top line of Patrick Maroon, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry was intact, as was the trio of Ryan Kesler between Matt Beleskey and Jakob Silfverberg. The defense pairs were unchanged.
Fleischmann played the final two games of the Ducks’ first-round sweep of the Winnipeg Jets, filling in proficiently for the then-injured Thompson and Chris Wagner. But Sekac hasn’t played in a month, since the next-to-last regular-season game.
“Him and Fleisch are both a possibility to be in or out,” Boudreau said. “They played good for us this year. So there’s a possibility that both of them could go in, one of them could go in, or neither of them could go in. I don’t know how else to say it without saying, ‘This guy’s in and this guy’s out.’ ”
Of course, he could say who’s in and who’s out, but that would violate the sacred law mandating secrecy or outright deception about lineup changes and injuries during the playoffs.
So the question became if he did change anything, would his prime intent be to send a message or add an element the Ducks lacked in Game 3?
“I think it would be two-fold,” Boudreau said. “One, to bring in some energy with guys that haven’t played, and two, to send messages, ‘Hey we’ve got good guys not playing right now so if we’re not playing at the top of our game right now, we can make changes.’ ”
One area they can shore up is their discipline. They took six penalties Tuesday and another was pending before Mikael Backlund scored the winner. They also must be more assertive, especially on the forecheck.
“I feel that we got a little too passive,” Silfverberg said. “We had the lead and I think we tried to defend too much and they just caught up with us. If you try not to get scored on you eventually will get scored on.
“We’ve got to get back to that forecheck and work hard and try and score goals instead of this backing off and letting them come to us. Play a little bit more aggressive and I think we’ll be fine.”
Aggressive doesn’t mean leveling people. It means setting a tone, controlling the tempo, making the Flames respond to them instead of them reacting to what the Flames do.
“We’ve got to get back to Anaheim Ducks hockey,” Maroon said, “just getting it deep, forechecking them, cycling it and wearing them down.”
Sekac said he didn’t see any fatal flaws in the Ducks’ performance Tuesday.
“It’s been a long series without losing any games. It’s tough in the playoffs, even though six games in a row were incredible,” Sekac said of the winning streak that ended in Game 3. “I think maybe guys got a little bit tired, and with that home advantage for Calgary it’s tough. You cannot expect any team to go all the way without losing one game.”
Fair enough. But a loss by the Ducks on Friday would ensure they’d have to return to Calgary next week without the promise of a return to idyllic Banff. There is really no more time to relax.