ANAHEIM, Calif. — Corey Perry woke up Tuesday morning feeling like he should be preparing for the Stanley Cup Final.
Instead, the Anaheim Ducks trudged back into Honda Center to clean out their lockers and hold exit interviews after losing a Game 7 for the third consecutive season.
"It’s happened too many times over the last couple years, and hopefully we can figure something out," Perry said.
With time to reflect on the 5-3 loss on home ice to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, the Ducks were still left bemoaning the lack of killer instinct they brought into Game 6.
"You do think about it," Ducks centre Ryan Kesler said. "Obviously we lost to a good team. Should we have ended it in Game 6? Absolutely. You’ve got to put away a team, especially that team. We let them hang around too long and they bit us."
"In Game 6, those are the games where you need to find it and make sure you do everything you can to win the game, and I don’t think we did that in Chicago," forward Andrew Cogliano said. "I think everyone can be honest about that."
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That failure to match the Blackhawks’ ruthlessness resulted in another round of questions about Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau’s 1-6 career record in Game 7s, and whether the roster needs to be significantly overhauled after blowing a 3-2 series lead for the third straight year.
General manager Bob Murray refused to affirm Boudreau would be back on the bench, but noted the team was "five wins away" from raising the Stanley Cup.
"We’ve made big strides this year," Murray said. "I thought the coaching staff made strides this year, but I’ve still got to talk to them. I’m not one to do things quickly. I’m not thinking about anything right now."
The constant refrain from players, Boudreau and Murray was that the Ducks are on the right track, especially with the core of the team set to return next season.
Matt Beleskey, who broke through by scoring 22 goals in the regular season and eight more in the playoffs, and veteran defenceman Francois Beauchemin are the only prominent contributors set to become unrestricted free agents.
Set to celebrate his 35th birthday next week, Beauchemin expressed a strong desire to finish his career with the Ducks.
"That’s no secret to anybody," Beauchemin said. "I have said it all year. I hope to come back. We haven’t discussed anything yet, so hopefully it will happen in the next few weeks."
For Beleskey, his decision may well hinge on the opportunity to command top dollars elsewhere or remain in a familiar situation and chase a championship.
The Ducks have a strong young nucleus including defenceman Hampus Lindholm, forward Jakob Silfverberg and goalie Frederik Andersen. Those players and others, however, will also be in line for new contracts over the next two seasons and could make resigning Beleskey a low priority.
"It’s going to be hard," Murray said. "We just went over the numbers here. There are a few guys I am going to try to sign. I have a priority list, I have decided that. This organization is going to be good for a while because we have lots of good young talent, but in saying that my focus will be on winning next year."
Add in a likely extension for Kesler with his contract set to expire after next season, and Murray acknowledged difficult decisions must be made despite having more than $17 million to spend under the salary cap. A similar crunch after the 2007 Stanley Cup win resulted in the loss of several key contributors.
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"In a perfect world I just keep everybody and add, but it’s not a perfect world," Murray said. "We’re not going to get in the same problem we had in ’08-09, I promise you that. We screwed up badly and I’m not going to do that again."
The cap situation will almost certainly prevent Murray from again showing the flair for the dramatic that resulted in last summer’s trade for Kesler. The former nemesis of Perry and captain Ryan Getzlaf from his time with the Vancouver Canucks, Kesler knows firsthand from his 2011 trip to the Stanley Cup Final what it takes to reach the big stage.
"This group, I’ve said it before, this group isn’t done," Kesler said. "We’re good enough. We were good enough this year. It just didn’t happen. You need a lot of things to go right to make it. I’ve been to the dance once, and it wasn’t just because we were a good team. We got lucky sometimes and got goals at the right times and were mentally strong."