Having mobile defensemen who can initiate or support the offense has become essential for success in the NHL, and the Ducks all season have allowed their defensemen to take chances offensively when they read the situation and believe they can go forward without compromising things on the defensive end. It has generally worked out well, but when those reads are bad or if the forwards don't cover up when the defensemen go up ice, the results can be ugly.
The Ducks experienced the ugly side of that equation on Monday in Game 3 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against San Jose because their defensemen pinched too often and the forwards didn't provide adequate support. That allowed the Sharks to enjoy waves of two-on-one and three-on-two breaks in an 8-1 victory, a debacle that put the Ducks within one loss of elimination.
With their season down to one game, on Wednesday night at SAP Center, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle told his players in no uncertain terms that they must be smarter and more conscientious if they want to prolong their season and take the series back to Honda Center for a Game 5 on Friday. Asked if he would tell his defenseman not to pinch so much or to do so with better judgment, and if he had told his forwards they'd have to help, he answered affirmatively.
"All of the above," he said after the team's morning skate Wednesday. "They've been well-versed on what happened the other night. They won't need any more reminders on what we did and the errors we committed because they take ownership for that. And it's up to us now to provide some opportunities and some positive things into the game that we did do but are overshadowed by the undisciplined acts and the final score of the game."
The Sharks have outscored the Ducks 14-3 and have scored on six of 17 power plays, including a four-for-eight performance in Game 3. The Ducks, whose DNA seems to be infused with a lack of discipline, can't be so generous again. "No. Their power play, that's what they live on and they're good at it," said right wing Corey Perry, whose eight penalty minutes are second only to the 18 accumulated by Ryan Getzlaf. "And you have to eliminate those for sure."
Center Ryan Kesler said the events in Game 3 are ancient history. "We washed that one out. I don't even want to talk about it," he said. "We just have to focus on the first 10 minutes and go from there. Weather their storm. We know they're probably going to come out hard again, so just weather their storm and focus on defense and discipline."
His teammates agreed. "Every shift matters for us now. Everybody's got to get ready to go," defenseman Brandon Montour said. "They've took it to us pretty well this series. We've got to win the rest.
"We've just got to stick to our game plan, get back to our success. Everybody's got to be going. We can't have any passengers tonight. We don't want our season to end. They're going to come out hard. We've just got to be better."
In Game 3 the Sharks had great energy in the early minutes and translated that into a goal by Logan Couture, but the Ducks responded at 13:40 with a power-play goal by Rickard Rakell. And even after Montour tumbled to the ice in front of the Ducks' bench early in the second period and the Sharks converted the ensuing two-on-one break, the Ducks trailed by only 2-1. But after that, the Ducks unraveled completely and let the game get out of hand.
"I looked at it as a 30-minute game," Carlyle said. "For the first 30 minutes of the hockey game we were in the game. We were involved in the game. They beat us up the ice on the first goal then we responded with a power-play goal, Rakell's goal. Even though Montour fell down it was still a one-goal hockey game and a lot of momentum swings and we responded with strong shifts after they scored, in both instances the second and third goal, but we committed to pinching on the wall without support and we got beat up the ice. And you can't continue to give two-on-ones to any hockey club. And we did that, and after that it was more about undisciplined acts and unnecessary play."
Now, it's about winning one game or packing up for the summer. "It's win or go home. Plain and simple," said Perry, who has no points in this series. "It has to be our best game of the year. … There's been a few times we've played the way we wanted to play. For the most part we haven't done that and put it together for 60."