The Ducks were destined for success in the playoffs, Cam Fowler was sure of it.
His club first had to qualify for the postseason, no easy task considering how tightly contested the spots were.
Of course, the Ducks accomplished that goal, but Fowler was injured before they even clinched a playoff berth. He missed the team’s final three regular-season games because of a left shoulder injury and remained on the mend Saturday as the Ducks lost to the San Jose Sharks 3-2 in a first-round series at Honda Center.
The team’s top defenseman still isn’t practicing, and Fowler’s been forced to watch the club’s first two games from the press box. There’s no way to truly replace such a pivotal player, and his absence was felt in a Game 1 loss. Without Fowler, the breakouts were few and far between.
There is hope, though. Coach Randy Carlyle expects Fowler to resume skating soon, and he hasn’t been ruled out for the first round.
The Ducks did welcome back Kevin Bieksa for Game 2 after he sat out the playoff opener. Bieksa underwent surgery to remove scar tissue from his left hand on March 16 and missed the rest of the regular season.
Bieksa, who loves to mix it up, fought Philadelphia Flyers tough man Radko Gudas in October and, after landing a crushing right hand, used his left hand to break his fall. He opted against surgery and instead played through the pain.
“It wasn’t an easy decision and it was one that — not to get too much into injuries — but it’s something that happened in the beginning of the season,” said Bieksa, who struggled this season with a team-worst minus-13 rating. “If I look back, yeah, maybe I should have had it done right away. But I didn’t.
“The situations that we were in at the time or whatever, I kind of decided to stick with it. ... Playoff hockey is the best time of the year and I feel like I play my best hockey then.”
The Ducks must hope he’s right. The 36-year-old replaced rookie Andy Welinski in the lineup Saturday, adding toughness to a club looking for a physical edge. Bieksa won’t be able to replace Fowler, though. That’s going to be a team effort.
And the kind of speed and grit J.T. Brown displayed in Game 1 amid an otherwise forgettable performance for the Ducks is exactly what they need.
The speedy winger was picked up off waivers in January to help solidify the fourth line, but one month later, general manager Bob Murray traded for Jason Chimera at the deadline and also signed Chris Kelly.
Their arrivals pushed Brown out of the lineup, but he was back in the fold at the end of the regular season. Brown played in 37 playoff games during his three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning and was a member of the squad that lost in the 2015 Stanley Cup finals.
“If you win the [first] game, you have more things to build off of,” Brown said, “whereas we didn’t win this game so we kind of have to turn the page.”