ANAHEIM, Calif. – Although the Anaheim Ducks are running short on chances to prove they’re more than just a regular-season power, they didn’t seem daunted before they headed out on a 30-mile road trip that could define their year.
After the best regular season in franchise history, the Ducks have lost four of their past six playoff games heading into a critical Game 3 at Los Angeles on Thursday night.
It’s barely a slump, and it includes a near-victory that got away with 7 seconds left in regulation in the second-round opener.
Yet the Ducks realize what hangs on their latest trip to Staples Center, and they’re comfortable with the risk.
“The belief and the confidence in this group is pretty high,” Anaheim defenceman Cam Fowler said. “We know that a lot of people are counting us out right now, but that only fuels us.”
During their best stretches of that remarkable regular season, the Ducks were a dominant offensive team, finishing second in the NHL with 266 goals.
With Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry leading the way, Anaheim got consistent scoring from all four lines and methodically broke down almost any defensive team—including the Kings, who beat the Ducks just once in five tries during the regular season.
In the playoffs, Anaheim has managed just three goals against Jonathan Quick in two home losses. The Kings’ puck-possession style and mistake-free play in their own end are remarkable at times, and even the Ducks appreciated it while spending the past two days figuring out ways to counter it.
“They certainly know how to win,” Fowler said. “Their style translates well to playoff hockey. Very structured, no mistakes, and make the other team beat you.
“They’ve done it before, and when Quick starts playing like he is now, that’s when they become a hard team to beat. They’re certainly peaking at the right time, and we know what we’re up against, but we have a belief in our group that we can do it.”
The Ducks have made some unique travel arrangements for the nominal road portion of this series.
After Wednesday’s practice, they took a bus to a hotel across the street from Staples Center. They’re staying downtown until Game 4 on Saturday, but they’ll also take the bus back to Anaheim for practice on Friday.
With just three goals in more than six playoff periods against the Kings, Anaheim might attempt to boost its offence by putting Kyle Palmieri back into the lineup.
The goal-scoring wing, a healthy scratch in the Ducks’ past four games, skated alongside Nick Bonino and Devante Smith-Pelly at practice Wednesday.
Palmieri scored a career-best 14 goals in the regular season, and he had five points in last season’s first-round series loss to Detroit.
The Kings are up 2-0 in a playoff series for the sixth time in the past three seasons, reaching that mark as the road team an incredible five times. They led all four series 3-0 despite opening on the road each time during their 2012 rampage through the post-season to their first Stanley Cup title.
The Kings also were down 0-3 in the first round last month against San Jose, which means they realize they’re only nominally in control of this series.
“A 2-0 lead is great, but it’s not four. We know that better than anybody,” Kings centre Jarret Stoll said. “They’ve outchanced us. They’ve beaten us in a lot of areas we need to be better at.”
The Kings are likely to be without injured defencemen Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr again in Game 3, but Matt Greene and Jeff Schultz have filled in splendidly so far.
Even with Quick on top of his game, the Ducks are confident they can get back in the series by getting more pucks past him. They hope to have the support of travelling Anaheim fans after the Kings had a boisterous cheering section at Honda Center, too.
“We played pretty well in the first two games, and we remind ourselves of that,” Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller said. “I don’t think many things need to change. We just need to keep our confidence.”