For the fifth straight season, the Ducks will play a Game 7 at home after having squandered a 3-2 series lead when they face the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night at the Honda Center.
How do they avoid losing that decisive game for the fifth straight season? Try scoring first.
The common thread in their losses to the Detroit Red Wings in 2013, the Kings in 2014, the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015 and the Nashville Predators last season is that the Ducks fell behind early, and often trailed by multiple goals in each game. The only game in which the Ducks matched that first goal was in 2013, when Henrik Zetterberg scored at 1:49 of the first period and Ducks forward Emerson Etem tied it at 13:48 of the period. But Detroit scored a shorthanded goal later in the first period and an even-strength goal in the second period and held off a late push by the Ducks.
So, yes, getting a good start Wednesday night was uppermost on the mind of Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle.
What does he want to see his team do? “Not get scored on in the first 30 seconds,” he said after the team’s morning skate at the Honda Center.
And after that?
“It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out we have to have a much better start than we did in the last one,” he said, referring to the Oilers’ having scored three times on their first six shots in taking a 5-0 lead in the first period of Game 6 en route to a 7-1 victory. “And there’s been some games that they’ve come out and dominated the first 10 minutes of the game and got themselves up two goals. Yet there’s some games, and we look specifically back to the games played in our building to start, I thought we had territorial advantage in the first period of both of them. Again, we lost both of them but those are the kind of games of the flow within the flow.
“Then we go back up to Edmonton and find a way to score a goal on a faceoff play [in Game 3]. It kind of turned the tide and got the momentum going our way. If anybody can predict the momentum flows that have taken place in this series, you’re a lot smarter than a lot of so-called hockey people.”
Defenseman Cam Fowler agreed that the Ducks’ performance in the early minutes will be crucial. The winner of Wednesday’s game will face the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference finals.
“We want to come out aggressively,” said Fowler, who has played in those four straight Game 7 losses and recorded two assists in those games. “We feel like we’re at our best when we’re on our toes, when we’re forechecking and playing physical. That’s when we feel like we get a lot of momentum and we’re able to get all of our guys involved in the hockey game.
“That’s something that’s definitely critical for us. We talked about last game coming out to a good start and we all saw what happened there. So we need to be focused for that first five or 10 minutes this time around and settle into the hockey game.”
Fowler also said he feels more prepared for this Game 7 than the past four because he has learned to control his emotions and channel them properly.
“Game 7, you want to do so much. You want to help your team out in any way that you can, that sometimes you end up doing a little too much and do things that maybe you’re not accustomed to doing during the season,” he said. “You have to be able to kind of walk that fine line of competing like we’re all going to, but also staying within yourself and keeping things simple. I think that’s the main thing for us.
“I think it comes with experience. I think Game 7, you always want to do everything you can possibly do to help the team and sometimes you end up trying to do too much or you force the issue a little bit. So I think we have guys in here that understand that and guys in here that have much more experience than I do, but that’s the one thing that’s really stuck out to me from these past Game 7s, is no one’s denying the effort and the intensity level that you’re going to have, but you have to be able to harness that into something positive instead of just kind of running around with your head cut off out there.”
Carlyle has coached in three Game 7s. He’s 1-1 with the Ducks (a win vs. Calgary in 2006 and a loss vs. Detroit in 2009) and 0-1 with Toronto in 2013.
The Ducks’ most experienced Game 7 player is right wing Patrick Eaves, with seven. However, he has a leg injury and won’t play Wednesday. Ryan Getzlaf (1-5, three assists) and Corey Perry (1-5, three goals and four points) have each played six Game 7s. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who sustained a lower-body injury in the series opener, has played in four Game 7s and is 2-2. He was not medically cleared to play as of Wednesday morning, but Carlyle said Bieksa’s status could change and that Bieksa could be an option.
Oilers coach Todd McLellan is 1-2 in Game 7 situations, all three with the San Jose Sharks. Winger Milan Lucic leads the Oilers with nine Game 7s on his resume; his record is 4-5 and he has four goals and six points in those games. Wednesday night’s game will be the first Game 7 for Oilers captain Connor McDavid, and he sounded like he would have been happy with a noon faceoff.
“Just anxious to get it going. That’s the main thing,” he said. “Obviously, everyone is excited to be here and it’s a big opportunity.
“There’s no real momentum. Every game’s a different battle and it doesn’t matter how we got here. It just matters we’re here, and the next one wins.”
Perry said the Ducks’ recent playoff history is irrelevant now. “You just feel the sense in here that we can play our game and let our game do the talking and just go out and play hockey,” he said. “ … It’s one of those things. You go out and play and have fun with it and you never know what can happen.”