Ryan Kesler slumped in front of his locker in full uniform, a towel draped over his face. Across the Ducks’ dressing room, Corey Perry sat near the door, silent and staring straight ahead, his face a portrait in disappointment.
The Ducks had come back time after time this season, but on Monday night their final rally fell short, with the Nashville Predators riding Colton Sissons’ hat trick and a 38-save effort from goalie Pekka Rinne to a 6-3 victory that will send them on to the Stanley Cup Final while sending the Ducks home for the summer.
“It’s the worst feeling in hockey,” center Ryan Getzlaf said in a voice barely above a whisper. “Your season’s over and you’re not holding the Cup. It doesn’t matter what round it is.”
It doesn’t matter that the Ducks rallied in the final month of the season to win the Pacific Division and entered the playoffs as the hottest team in the NHL. It doesn’t matter that they rallied from a two-game deficit to beat the Edmonton Oilers in the second round or that they twice rallied from two-goal deficits to tie Monday’s game with more than 11 minutes to play.
Nor, finally, does it matter that they outshot the Predators 41-18 in Game 6.
In the end, the only thing that matters is they lost.
“It still hurts,” Getzlaf said. “[We’ve] been tested more than a team’s been tested in a long time.
“That’s been the story of the year. We got behind the eight ball a little bit early in the season, worked our way back into the playoffs. Got down in different games, different series, worked our way back. And eventually you run out of steam when you’re doing that.”
So when Nick Ritchie was disqualified with a game misconduct penalty in the first period, the Ducks, who were playing their 10th game in 19 days, were left with only 11 forwards.
But no one in the funereal dressing room was interested in excuses. The result was all that mattered.
“The game’s over and your season’s over,” forward Andrew Cogliano said, shaking his head. “To go out like that . . . it’s a tough one.”
Monday’s game, like the Ducks’ season, was a roller-coaster ride. Nashville jumped on Gibson’s understudy, Jonathan Bernier, from the start, with Austin Watson and Sissons putting two of the Predators’ first three shots past him for a 2-0 lead less than nine minutes after the opening faceoff.
Ondrej Kase got one of those back for the Ducks in the second period but Sissons scored again early in the third to restore Nashville’s two-goal lead.
Ducks forward Nicolas Kerdiles checks Predators defenseman Yannick Weber into the boards during the first period.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Predators center Colton Sissons celebrates after scoring in the first period.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Ducks center Antoine Vermette consoles goalie Jonathan Bernier after losing to the Predators.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Predators teammates Viktor Arvidsson, left, and Mattias Ekholm embrace at the conclusion of a 6-3 win over the Ducks.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Ducks defenseman Josh Manson collides with Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis during second period action.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Predators center Colton Sissons lines up a point-blank shot to score his third goal of the game, giving Nashville to a 4-3 win lead over the Ducks in the third period.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Ducks winer Corey Perry, left, and center Antoine Vermette celebrate a goal by teammate Cam Fowler (not pictured), tying the score 3-3 with the Predators in the third period.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Ducks center Chris Wagner is shoved by Predators defenseman Roman Josi as he tries to shoot on goalie Pekka Rinne during the thiird period.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Ducks goalie Jonathan Bernier and defenseman Cam Fowler can’t stop the puck from hitting the net as Predators center Colton Sissons scores his second goal of the game, giving Nashville a 3-1 lead.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Predators center Colton Sissons celebrates after scoring his third goal of the game, leading Nashville to a 6-3 win over the Ducks in Game 6.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Predators center Colton Sissons celebrates in front of Ducks forward Corey Perry after scoring a goal in the first period.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf skates to the bench along with teammate Cam Fowler after the Predators took a 5-3 lead in the third period.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Ducks goalie Jonathan Bernier collides with teammate Hampus Lindholm as Predators center Colton Sissons skates by during the third period.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Predators defenseman Yannick Weber checks Ducks right wing Jared Boll into the boards during the first period.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Predators center Colton Sissons is tied up with Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm during second period action.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Injured Predators center Ryan Johansen makes his way to the home locker room before Monday night’s game in Nashville(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Ducks forward Nicolas Kerdiles, left, and defenseman Brandon Montour stretch in the wings of Bridgestone Arena.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Ducks center Chris Wagner stretches in the wings of Bridgestone Arena before taking the ice against the Nashville Predators in Game 6.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The Ducks weren’t done, though, and when Chris Wagner and Cam Fowler answered by scoring less than four minutes apart, the game was even with more than half a period to play. And when the Predators’ Roman Josi shot the puck over the glass, earning a delay-of-game penalty three minutes later, the Ducks had a chance to go ahead on the power play.
However, Nashville, which gave up just two power-play goals in 18 chances in the series, didn’t give in, and three seconds after killing the Josi penalty, Sissons effectively killed the Ducks by completing his hat trick with six minutes to play, giving him one more goal in Monday’s game then he had in his previous 15 playoff games this season.
Filip Forsberg and Watson added empty-net goals in the final 2:22, and Nashville, which has never won a division title, became the Western Conference champion. The Ducks, meanwhile, have won five straight Pacific Division titles but haven’t reached the Final since 2007, when they won the Cup.
“It’s a very frustrating thing for a group when they . . . work as hard as we did all year, and all game for that matter,” Getzlaf said.
But, he added, “we didn’t get the result we needed.”