A third straight Pacific Division title should send a message to the National Hockey League. It should put the Western Conference on high alert, informing all competitors that the Anaheim Ducks don’t settle for anything other than first place.
But odds are the Los Angeles Kings didn’t read much into that message.
General Manager Bob Murray seemed to have a message of his own for his team at the last summer when he traded away Nick Bonino for Ryan Kesler – a game-changing second-line center who also just happens to be a fantastic King killer. And that message was reinforced at the trade deadline when he significantly reinforced the team’s speed and skill with six transactions.
Essentially, the Ducks are constructed a lot like the Kings and the Blackhawks — winners of the last three Stanley Cups — with depth up the middle, speed on the wings and a loaded defense corps. There was no sense of panic after last year’s Game 7 loss in the Western Conference semifinals, only a reinvigorated sense of urgency and an emboldened confidence with the new roster additions.
"The first year, we 3-2 in Game 7. Last year, we lost to the Stanley Cup champions in Game 7," Boudreau said. "Sometimes it’s just a bounce here and a bounce there. Sometimes we make too much out of it as though you need an overhaul. You lose a game or something in the game of hockey, crazy things happen. Sometimes if you stay the course and you’re just a little bit more determined than you were in the previous years, sometimes good things can happen."
The Ducks haven’t lost a one-goal game in regulation yet this season. That record might send more of a message than another division title.
"You could debate about all the fancy stats and all that, but I think it comes down to winning and so far, we’ve done that," said winger Andrew Cogliano. "There’s going to be up and down during the year that, obviously, we’ve faced so far, but I think at the end of the day if you win the game, that’s all that matters. And that’s encouraging to see our record, like I said, in one-goal games because it speaks to the character and when things are down to the wire and on the line, we’re willing to compete."
But while the hockey stats world has fully embraced the Kings, it’s still predicting doom and gloom for Anaheim in the playoffs. The Corsis, the Fenwicks and the Fenway Parks don’t seem to add up in favor of the Ducks, despite being constructed somewhat similar to stat-favorite L.A. And maybe there’s a reason for that, because the one thing advanced analytics don’t measure is the intangibles.
"I don’t think anyone really cares, to be honest. I’ve never heard that talked about in the room at all," Cogliano said. "I think obviously, those stats aren’t as good as some teams’, but I think our one-goal game (record) speaks for itself. I think that should show you how tight our group is and how good we are when things are on the line."
As the Ducks begin to look towards another playoff run, they’ll take into account the lessons learned from the last. The lingering feeling of last year’s playoff loss may have been the key intangible that puts it all together for Anaheim in the postseason.
"I hope the memory is long and they know what it feels like to win and they know what it feels like to lose," said head coach Bruce Boudreau. "One feels nicer than the other one, but there’s also a price to pay. Another two months of potential hard work. I hope the core has seen that and they know what they have to go through."