The last time the Ducks faced this kind of turnaround, they fished the puck out of their net seven times.
One of the more difficult tasks in hockey is to ratchet back up after an emotionally heavy win, which is what the Ducks must do again Friday when the Western Conference finals begin against the Nashville Predators at Honda Center.
The puck drops fewer than 48 hours after the Ducks ended a streak of four Game 7 losses at home with a win against the Edmonton Oilers.
“Well, I mean, it’s good and bad,” Ryan Getzlaf said. “It’s the same with everything. We have all these talks, and it’s great if we’re able to perform. It’s not so good if we don’t. We’ll find out.”
It was just last Sunday that the Ducks fell flat as three-day-old soda in a 7-1 loss to Edmonton in Game 6. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said there wasn’t much left in the tank following their NHL-record comeback win in Game 5, and it went down as another Ducks’ Game 6 fiasco.
Carlyle, always mindful of timing and preparation, was taken aback by the short turnaround.
“You know, having the game-clinching game [Wednesday] night and then being — I don’t know if it’s called ‘forced to play’ the next game in less than 48 hours — is kind of a surprise from a scheduling standpoint … ” Carlyle said.
“You don’t get a lot of time. So what we’ve tried to do ism we just take the status quo schedule that we’ve created with playing every second day, and then just treat this as another continuation of the Edmonton series.”
What waits the Ducks is a different animal than the Oilers. Nashville entered the playoffs as the second wild-card team in the West and morphed into probably the hottest team remaining. The Predators reached the first conference finals in their 18-year history with a formidable defense led by P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi, and the stellar goaltending of Pekka Rinne, a slick stick-handler.
Subban said the best defense is offense in describing their attack.
The Predators’ rise is a product of a transition from the grind-it-out era of former coach Barry Trotz to a modern speed game with new coach Peter Laviolette. That includes its back end, as three of its top five scorers are defensemen.
“They seem to be playing as well as anybody right now, and they’re ultra, ultra aggressive in everything that they do,” Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said. “The one thing, though, is we’ve seen teams so far who have aggressive defensemen who like to push the pace of the play, so we kind of have a mind-set for that. But these guys do it just as well as those teams do, so it’s something that we’re going to have to be aware of.”
Defense has become a big part of the Ducks’ narrative too. They’ve reached the final four with the youngest defense in the league at an average age of 23.6, based on the last lineups used, according to the team. Fowler and Hampus Lindholm lead them at 25 and 23, respectively, with 35-year-old Kevin Bieksa “very close” to returning from injury, general manager Bob Murray said Thursday.
Will the mix of Stanley Cup Final-proven veterans Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler with the precocious prospects move the Ducks closer to a Cup? Getzlaf said they’re not afraid to broach it as they did in their 2007 Cup win.
“I think about it every day,” Getzlaf said. “That’s ultimately what the goal is every time I come to the rink at the start of every season, to end up in the Final and have a chance to play for it.”
First, they must get past a Nashville team that extended the Ducks’ Game 7 loss streak last season and eliminated them in 2011. Rinne was in goal for both of those series. James Neal probably qualifies as a Ducks nemesis as well, and he offered his thoughts on countering Kesler.
If Kesler is worn down from the first two rounds, it’s not showing. He had the tying assist Wednesday and carries a long memory of the Predators.
“They’re the team that put us out last year,” Kesler said. “It’s a new year, new teams. For some of us, it means a little bit more. But we’re all playing for the same thing, and right now it’s about getting four wins before they do, and it’s going to be a tough road, but we’re up to it.”
Ducks wing Patrick Eaves remains out with an apparent foot injury, but Murray is optimistic after he saw Eaves work out.
“He’s a ways away yet, but the therapy he’s doing and the people he’s working with, it’s coming along,” Murray said. “I have hope.”
Murray also said defenseman Clayton Stoner is available.