How the Red-Hot Anaheim Ducks Surged Back into NHL's Western Conference Elite

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How the Red-Hot Anaheim Ducks Surged Back into NHL's Western Conference Elite
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DENVER — It would have been forgivable if the Anaheim Ducks' postgame scene after their first regulation loss in 15 games Wednesday night had gone something like this: "Hey boys, it was a real nice run. Can't win 'em all, and a night like this was bound to happen sooner or later. So let's just have a cold one and toast to the streak and get back at 'er tomorrow."

But that was nothing like how it actually went in the visitors' dressing room at the Pepsi Center, where the Colorado Avalanche had just shut out the Ducks 3-0. The reporters on hand came at Ducks players with those empathetic lines of questioning. But Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf would have none of it.

"We weren't prepared to play tonight. Simple as that," said Getzlaf, despite the Ducks outshooting Colorado 37-26 and winning 57 percent of the game's faceoffs

Another reporter asked if all the "battles" the team has been through of late, including a rough-and-tumble win over its Southern California rival, the Los Angeles Kings, on Saturday, might have been the reason for the off night.

"It's an excuse," Getzlaf said. "But we didn't show up to play."

It's been this kind of no-excuses atmosphere around the Ducks since Christmas, when, Getzlaf said, the team decided to get serious about commitment. While things are better for an Anaheim team that started the season 1-7-2, including four shutouts, Getzlaf sensed that just getting back to .500 was good enough. 

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Getzlaf said a couple of team meetings took place right after the Christmas break where he, as captain, emphasized that anything less than full-tilt effort from there on out would not be acceptable in his dressing room.

"Coming out of the Christmas break, we decided to play like we can," said Getzlaf, who leads the Ducks in scoring with 10 goals and 42 assists. "A lot of guys stepped up their game individually, and as a group, we started connecting together, started playing the right way. [As captain], I'm going to take the criticism when it's there and the positives when they're there, and part of [the turnaround] was me doing my job. I had to be better as an individual, and a few [other] guys in here. We came back with that mentality that we weren't going to be stopped and were able to get things turned around and get ourselves back in the race here."

The 14-game point streak (12-0-2) included a franchise-record 11 straight wins from Feb. 13 through March 7. Former Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry, who went scoreless his first 11 games of the season, now has 28 goals through 66 games, which is just over one goal every two games on average since that streak.

Goaltender John Gibson took the loss in Denver, but entering the contest, he led all NHL rookie goalies in save percentage (.920) and shutouts (four). 

But perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Ducks' resurgence is that they've done it largely without Getzlaf and Perry playing on the same line. Since joining the Ducks together in 2005, Getzlaf and Perry went together like peanut butter and jelly, forming a dominant duo that regularly placed among the NHL's top-10 scorers. 

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But after the Ducks acquired right wing David Perron from Pittsburgh on Jan. 16 in a deal that sent Carl Hagelin to the Penguins, Perron moved onto a line centered by Getzlaf. The two found instant chemistry, with Perron notching 19 points in his first 22 games as a Duck. Perry moved onto a line centered by 22-year-old Swede Rickard Rakell, and that has worked well for coach Bruce Boudreau. Rakell's ascension means Boudreau can utilize veteran center Ryan Kesler on a strong third line with Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg, a line that excels at both ends of the ice.

Getzlaf and Perry are still on the ice together when the Ducks go on the power play, and they've shown the chemistry is still there, with Anaheim entering Thursday third in the league on the PP at 23.1 percent.

Boudreau, who reached 400 victories faster than any coach in NHL history (400-186-77) with the win over the Kings Saturday, said one thing he has learned from early in the season, when everything was going wrong, is not to be afraid to try new things. He could have stubbornly kept Getzlaf and Perry together, for instance, but indicated change was good for everyone.

"I think every year, you find different angles. You just [try] to get better as a coach all the time," Boudreau said. "Every year is a little bit different."

Like his captain, Boudreau wasn't in any mood to marvel at the 14-game point streak, which was the NHL's longest since Boston went 15-0-1 from March 2-30 in 2014. The scars from early in the season are still too fresh for any self-satisfaction to creep into the locker room.

"We got away from the way we've played. We gave up more odd-man rushes in a five-minute span than we have the last 15 games," Boudreau said. "It's no excuse. It's our job, every day, to come out and play the right way. You can't sit back and say, 'Well, we've won a lot and it was time; it was due.' Those things don't really enter into my thought process."

The Ducks' next game is Friday in St. Louis, a matchup of two of the league's hottest teams. The Ducks figure to be good and ready.

Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report

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