Flash forward to the present, and the very thing that was one of the franchise's biggest weaknesses now is one of its greatest strengths. In a Western Conference Quarterfinal series that features multiple Hall of Fame-level talents on both sides, it is the "other guys" for the Ducks who have them positioned one victory from claiming the series and advancing to the second round.
Anaheim possesses a 3-2 series lead and has a chance Monday to eliminate the Detroit Red Wings in Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena (8 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN2).
"Ultimately, we knew that was the one thing that was holding this team back," Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said. "Young guys that were in the system came up and really helped out. I think Bob [Murray, general manager] was able to bring in some guys that helped, as well.
"The biggest thing is probably Bruce. His whole system is four lines. I felt when I got here there was only two lines and other guys just filled time and went out to create some energy. Bruce actually preaches the complete opposite -- he preaches a four-line game. Obviously the top guys need to score, but the third- and fourth-liners need to chip in with goals and be responsible. I think he's done a good job of instilling confidence in everyone."
Captain Ryan Getzlaf has been one of the best players in the series, and he leads the Ducks with five points (three goals) in five games. The team's other top three forwards -- Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne -- have combined for two goals and seven points.
For Detroit, Johan Franzen has three goals, and the other top forwards -- Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula and Daniel Cleary -- have combined for two. The biggest reason the Ducks have outscored the Red Wings 16-11 to this point is Anaheim's offensive depth.
"If you look at all the good teams that go through the playoffs, sometimes in the first round your best scorers, the guys who lead your team in scoring, don't score," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "If you're deep enough, someone else picks up and in the end you become who you are."
Boudreau said, "That [offensive depth] has been our strength all year. If you look at our team, we were in the top 10 in highest-scoring teams [Anaheim was eighth at 2.79 goals per game], and yet nobody had more than 15 goals."
The transformation appears to have happened quickly, but roster building takes time. Murray has found the forwards to fill in around his team's stars in a variety of ways.
Kyle Palmieri (two goals, four points in the series), Matt Beleskey (2-1-3) and Emerson Etem (1-1-2) were draft picks who have blossomed under Boudreau's tutelage. Nick Bonino (3-1-4), David Steckel (1-1-2) and Cogliano (0-1-1) were added via trades. Saku Koivu (1-2-3) and Daniel Winnik (0-1-1) were signed as free agents.
The two most obvious elements this collection of forwards excels at are speed and versatility. Etem is one of the fastest players in the League, and Cogliano, Palmieri and Beleskey all are above-average skaters.
Team speed for Anaheim has been evident at times in this series, as these forwards have hounded Detroit's defensemen and forced them into mistakes.
"I think the top line with Getzlaf and Perry are probably Detroit's prime focus, with Selanne thrown in there," Etem said. "I think us -- the third- and fourth-line guys -- not only do we want to create energy, but we know that we've got to fill that void with offensive production. Through that energy and finishing our checks and playing a simple game, we create those turnovers, those loose pucks, and we've been able to capitalize on them. We're kind of a crash-and-bang type of style out there, and it has helped create chances for us."
Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said, "You just have to make sure they don't get behind us in the neutral zone. When they chip it by us, we as defensemen and the F3 -- the third forward -- have to do a good job of deflecting and wedging them out so they don't get that speed going and get the puck."
Palmieri and Beleskey have played on three lines. Etem plays mostly on the fourth line, but is a future top-line talent, and like Palmieri and Beleskey can play either wing. The versatility allows Boudreau, a noted mixer and matcher, to shuffle his forward lines without his team missing a beat.
"It is confidence in each other," Palmieri said. "The way we play the lines switch up all the time, and from practice going through the entire year, we've always been comfortable playing with different guys. I think that chemistry, having that, is awesome. I am comfortable playing on all those lines and know my job on each of those lines. We're all just trying to do our best to get chances and at the same time be responsible defensively."
For all of the line juggling Boudreau does, it mostly is on the wings. There is stability down the middle and on his third line, and that is the glue that holds everything together in the midst of the other moving parts.
Bonino's ability to lock down the No. 2 spot behind Getzlaf has allowed Koivu to thrive as the No. 3 center and everyone else to fill roles more suited to their talents. Bonino missed six weeks of the regular season with an injury, but since he's returned there is a clear depth chart at center -- Getzlaf, Bonino, Koivu and Steckel -- and they fit the roles Boudreau asks of them.
"He definitely stabilizes the whole lineup,” Palmieri said of Bonino. “Even though he’s the second-line center, it helps stabilize the other lines, as well. We've had some centers in that second spot -- Bobby [Ryan] tried it for a while, [Cogliano] tried for a bit -- and it kind of threw off the chemistry of the other guys on the ice. Since he came back, we've definitely stabilized the lineup at least a little, and as much as Bruce wants it."
Koivu's line, with Winnik on his left and Cogliano on his right, has been the most consistent trio on the team this season. The line started the season at an incredible offensive pace, and after cooling considerably, still had more points as a trio at even strength (30) than the team's more-hyped top line of Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan (28).
Cogliano had as many goals (13) in 48 games as he had in 82 a season ago. Koivu scored at a 47-point pace (more than each of the previous two seasons) despite no longer being a top-six forward. Though they haven't scored as much as the other lines, Boudreau has tasked them with trying to neutralize Detroit's top guns.
"I think right from the beginning we got in a groove," Cogliano said. "We were playing together and we enjoyed it and we had success early in the year. I think for Bruce there is a comfort level. He knows he can put us out there and we can play responsibly against other teams' top lines. For him, it was a line that he could always come back to if we lost a game or during a game and help out.
"I think in this series alone, it has been tough to create a lot of chances because we've been playing against Pavel and Zetterberg the whole time, or a lot of the time, but when we're playing against them, it can create opportunities for guys like Bonino, Palmieri and Etem to use their strengths and create offense."
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