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Hockey

Ducks take coach’s words to heart, land playoff spot for sixth straight season

Randy Carlyle delivered a message to his team, ravaged by injuries, during a trip to Philadelphia only eight games into the season.

The Ducks coach knew then it would be a rocky road to the playoffs, with key players such as Ryan Kesler, Patrick Eaves and Cam Fowler out of the lineup at the beginning of the season.

Many more injuries followed, with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry forced to sit out for extended periods, and John Gibson a frequent name on the injury list.

Carlyle never wavered. He was steadfast in his belief, and he hammered the idea home on that October night.

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“Give yourselves a chance and just get in the playoffs,” Carlyle recalled Wednesday moments after the Ducks accomplished that goal with a 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild to clinch a postseason berth. “We recognized that we were going to be in tough if we didn’t get our act together, basically. A challenge was put to our players that, ‘Hey, we need to play to a higher level.’”

The players responded and here they are, with an opportunity to chase a Stanley Cup for a sixth consecutive season.

The Ducks were short-handed after Fowler and Gibson were injured in the previous game, but two timely goals coupled with more steady play from backup goalie Ryan Miller pushed them over the finish line in a contest in which Carlyle thought they looked flat.

The Chicago Blackhawks rallied to beat the St. Louis Blues earlier Wednesday, opening the door for the Ducks to clinch a postseason berth with two games to play in the regular season.

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The Ducks weren’t sharp in the first two periods, with many of their passes hitting skate blades rather than stick blades.

Resiliency has been a hallmark of the club’s success this season, and the Ducks rallied again.

Nick Ritchie sat behind the net and simply flung the puck in front. It caromed off defenseman Nate Prosser and Adam Henrique started hacking at the puck lying in the crease. Before anyone could figure out where it was, the red light was flashing with a second-period goal credited to Ritchie.

In the final period, it was Henrique again. He pressed hard on the forecheck and created a turnover. Shortly after, Josh Manson’s point-blast rebound was buried by Ondrej Kase with 3:56 left to effectively end the game with his 20th goal.

“This whole year has been a bit of a struggle with the start we had, players we had out of the lineup, it was tough to see the big picture at that point,” Getzlaf said. “Our guys did a good job battling throughout the whole year. We accomplished one goal.”

Now, they harbor hope of accomplishing much bigger goals. Getzlaf wasn’t ready to celebrate just yet with two pivotal games left, contests that could propel the Ducks to home-ice advantage in the opening round if the situation breaks their way.

Gibson remains out because of an upper-body injury and so does Fowler, who will be sidelined two to six weeks because of a shoulder injury that put his left arm in a sling.

The Ducks have depth though, and the younger skaters gained plenty of experience in so many games played this season down a man (or five).

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“Even from the beginning of the season, I was sitting out and I was anxious to play. There were a lot of the guys along with me [on injured reserve],” said Miller, who gave up one goal on 27 shots. “We were winning and losing, floating around .500. To make the playoffs, you certainly can’t stay at .500.

“It was a big push by the team to get on some runs. To get the playoff spot with two games remaining, it was quite a sprint down the stretch for us. Proud of all the guys.”

Now, one goal remains: the Stanley Cup.


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