The excuses were all lined up, ready to use.
• Everybody was gunning for the defending champs;
• Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer both missed significant chunks of the regular season;
• UFA signing Todd Bertuzzi was a bust;
• Injuries (Corey Perry, Samuel Pahlsson; Rob Niedermayer; Bertuzzi; Mathieu Schneider) and a suspension (Chris Pronger) to key players meant the team never played together as a whole;
• An ill-approved European adventure followed by a grueling road trip to open the season.
It would have been ever so easy for the Ducks to rollover over down 3-1 and say, simply: “It was all too much to overcome.”
Instead, Anaheim did what champions do. In the face of adversity, they won.
They won despite being badly outplayed in stretches.
They won despite taking 10 minor penalties.
They won despite being outshot 42-32.
And with that 5-2 victory, the Ducks avoided being bounced in the first round the year after winning the Cup. A dubious distinction few have suffered and one trumped only by teams that miss the big dance altogether.
The question now is can the Ducks complete the comeback? The key to this series has and will continue to be special teams.
Anaheim scored twice on three PP opportunities in Game 5; a feat duplicated from Game 3 when they were 2-for-4.
If the Ducks can make hay with the man advantage in Game 6 (to be played Sunday in Dallas) and – and this is a big and – stay out of the sin bin, they can absolutely force a Game 7 back in Anaheim Tuesday.
And if this series goes back to the west coast, all bets are off. It’s a one-game showdown; a coin-flip, if you will. The Ducks will have a superb chance to become only the 21st team in 220 opportunities to comeback from a 3-1 series deficit.
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.