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DALLAS (AP) - The Anaheim Ducks are fully aware of how poorly Stanley Cup champions have defended their titles lately.
And, sure, they realize how close they've already come to adding to that sad history, having faced deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 in their first-round series against the Dallas Stars.
But the Ducks are still alive and they're going into Game 6 on Sunday night with more than optimism. They also have a revived special teams, which - the way this series has gone - might be enough for them to become the first reigning champs to make the second round since Colorado in 2002.
The Stars got the upper-hand in the series by scoring on eight of their first 20 power plays, notching at least two such goals in each of the first three games.
Since? Dallas is 0-for-13, having blown five chances in the first period of Game 5, when a win would've eliminated Anaheim.So give the Ducks credit for awakening their penalty kill. But also notice that their power-play unit is showing signs of life.
Ryan Getzlaf took advantage of the extra man to break a 1-1 tie in the second period of Game 5, then early in the third period Teemu Selanne scored another on a 5-on-3 power play goal. Anaheim went 2-for-3 on the night, capitalizing the way a team facing elimination is supposed to do.
"Penalty killing and power play are key contributors to success or failure in the playoffs," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "We have to make sure that we stay with our system and not give them too many power plays. We were guilty of that in the first period (of Game 5). We could have easily taken ourselves right out of the game without the effort of our penalty killers and our goaltending.
"Again, those are things hopefully we can learn from, but it seems to be a long, hard lesson for our group."
Defenseman Sean O'Donnell doesn't think it's all that complicated.
"It's just a matter of the odds before we finally got on a roll and killed some of them," he said. "They were giving it to us pretty good the first three games on the power play. We made some adjustments. I think we've done a decent job. I'm sure they're going to make some changes for Sunday night. The chess game continues."
Stars forward Stu Barnes noted Game 5 was closer than the final score indicated. Dallas got to 3-2 with a goal early in the third period. Anaheim got another about 8 minutes later, then added an empty-netter.
He also believes Dallas' special teams can snap back quickly.
"That's part of the playoffs," he said. "You're going to have good days and bad days. You just try to have as many good ones as possible. In a playoff series, you're always making adjustments, trying to find an advantage, trying to be better the next night."
Neither team took the ice Saturday, opting to rest after back-to-back games. If there's a Game 7, it would be in Anaheim on Tuesday night.
"Everyone can catch their breath," Barnes said.
Last year, Dallas trailed Vancouver 3-1 then won Game 5. And Game 6. The Stars went back to Vancouver for the seventh game full of momentum, but couldn't pull out the series. So they have a good appreciation of how hard it is to overcome such a deficit. Only 20 of 219 NHL teams have won a series after trailing 3-1.
Settling things in Game 6 would have several benefits for Dallas.
There's the obvious advantage of avoiding a winner-take-all Game 7 on the road, plus the possible spark of wrapping up the series at home. The last time the Stars did that? The conference finals in 2000. It also would give them two home playoff wins in one series, which they haven't had since a first-round win in 2003. That also was the last time they won a series.
"We just have to focus about the game at home and forget about this one," Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas said following Game 5. "You don't want to give them any life. They were obviously successful in the playoffs last year and they know how to win. We are just going to have to focus on Sunday and not think about anything further."