The Anaheim Ducks were one of the hottest teams coming into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Finishing on an 8-1-1 run that pushed them into second place in the Pacific Division to earn home-ice advantage in Round 1, the Ducks had finally reached a level they had been searching for all season.
At the beginning of the year, the Ducks were seriously banged up. Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen were missing from the blue line in October, and Ryan Kesler was missing for the forwards. Ryan Getzlaf soon followed and vacancies at centre forced the Ducks into the trade market, shipping Vatanen to New Jersey for Adam Henrique to plug on the top line, which should today be a strength in depth at the pivot position. John Gibson missed some time as well, but his .934 save percentage over the last two months of the season was the second-best mark in the league.
All told, there were reasons to be optimistic for a bit of a playoff run from the Ducks this season. Granted, their first-round matchup against a similarly scorching San Jose Sharks was an unlucky draw, but the mostly healthy Ducks (they’re without Cam Fowler) should have at least been in for a long, tough series.
But after three games, the Sharks have skated circles around Anaheim. Monday’s 8-1 loss was about as bad as it could get and put the Ducks in a 3-0 series hole. Last week Anaheim was one of the NHL’s hottest teams. Today they look destined to hit the links by the end of the week.
“When you play playoff hockey and you play tight hockey you try to limit the opposition’s opportunities and don’t allow them the freedom that we allowed them and give up 2-on-1s and odd-man rushes,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said after the game. “You play tight. You want to be stingier and specifically on the road. That was an extremely poor performance on our part.”
After one period of play it wasn’t at all bad. The Ducks had a three-shot advantage, the score was tied and the power plays were even at one apiece. But just a little more than one minute into the second period, defenceman Brandon Montour blew a tire that allowed Joonas Donskoi and Evander Kane to walk in with a 2-on-1 they converted to re-take the lead. As Carlyle said, “Everything seemed to come apart at the seems once the Montour mishap occurred.”
As the Ducks defencemen tried to pinch and keep pressure in the offensive zone, the Sharks managed to breakthrough with a number of odd-man rushes. By the end of the second period San Jose had a 5-1 lead and chased Gibson.
But things really went off the rails for Anaheim in Period 3. With one period and a four-goal deficit away from trailing 3-0 in the series, rather than play with responsible desperation, the Ducks responded by taking six third-period penalties to San Jose’s two and a misconduct to Ryan Getzlaf ended his night early. The Sharks put three more goals on the board, all on the man advantage, and the route was on.
: "It's hard to forget what we just did. Very undisciplined. Very disappointed in our reaction. Those are things we have to address. We're not going to give ourselves any kind of an opportunity when you take the number of penalties we took. I call them selfish penalties." – RC pic.twitter.com/NA46HT2RIX
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) April 17, 2018
“From my perspective, it’s hard to forget what we just did,” Carlyle said. “Very undisciplined. Very disappointed in our reaction in the hockey game. Those are the things we have to address.
“You’re not going to give yourself any kind of an opportunity when you take the number of penalties we took. And I call them selfish penalties.”
Added Montour, when asked how his team can move on from such a loss: “I mean, do you? … We know what happened. It’s embarrassing; it’s not good enough. Now it’s do or die. If you dwell on a game like this it gets you nowhere.”
An 0-3 hole is nearly impossible to dig out of for any team and although the Sharks have blown an advantage like this in the recent past, the Ducks appear especially ill-suited to bounce back and win the next four in a row. Their 18 regular season road wins were more than only Edmonton and Vancouver in the Pacific Division. They were the fourth-most penalized team this season and although their regular season PK was one of the best in the league, their post-season kill rate of 64.7 per cent is a huge problem.
“One win, we gotta win a game now,” Getzlaf said about getting back into this series. “Our focus has gotta be (to) win that Game 4 and that’s all we can do.”