ANAHEIM, Calif. — Sometimes, perception is reality.
The Anaheim Ducks didn't deny that their performance in Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal was anything but lethargic.
For such a pivotal game in a playoff series, it sure didn't look like Ducks had the kind of energy a team would need in a pressure-packed environment -- especially when the opponent is the defending Stanley Cup champions.
As Anaheim defenseman James Wisniewski put it afterward, "We played like it was Game 38 of the regular season."
The postgame assessment didn't change upon returning home for a must-win Game 6 on Tuesday night at the Honda Center. Sure, the Red Wings were dominant in Game 5 as they outshot Anaheim, 38-17. Jonas Hiller's performance is arguably the lone reason why the Ducks were only down a goal until Darren Helm's insurance tally with 3:08 remaining.
But the common feeling in the Anaheim dressing room after the game and again on Monday was that the Ducks didn't come close to the level they displayed in their first-round upset of top-seeded San Jose and the first part of this series against Detroit.
"We know they're a good team, but we played way below average," Wisniewski said. "That's unacceptable, especially when the series is tied 2-2 in the second round of the playoffs. You expect to come out 100 percent every shift. And I think a lot of us, the whole team, didn't have the energy that we should have."
The key question facing the Ducks now is whether they have the energy to muster another championship-like performance against the Red Wings, who seem to be building steam as the series rolls on and are taking on the look of a team that can repeat as champs.
The perception is Detroit is simply superior, and that it's only a matter of time before it finishes off a pesky-but-tired Anaheim squad. The Ducks insist that isn't reality.
"There's no excuse to not have a better effort (Sunday)," said defenseman Ryan Whitney, who scored Anaheim's only goal in Game 5. "Guys aren't worn out from the first round or anything. We got two days off before Game 5. Guys are rested. That's not it.
"It's the playoffs. It's a lot of adrenaline. Once games start, not many people feel tired. … We're not playing to our capabilities. Now it's our life. Our season's on the line now. It's up to us to have our best game of the year tomorrow."
Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle sought to ease the minds of his players Monday as he had them engage in a loose game of shinny with every player using their off hand before using the second half of their 35-minute workout for normal drills.
After watching video of the defeat that put the Ducks in their first elimination situation, there was no sense to keep rehashing it.
"It can't be any worse," Carlyle said. "So that's our starting point. We're looking at it and saying, 'Hey, we didn't play anywhere near the level that's required.' There's a lot of proof in that from the standpoint of video and what not.
"We've reviewed it as a coaching staff. But at this point, it doesn't make any sense to dwell on what happened the other night. We'll be judged by our performance (Tuesday) night."
Carlyle tried a number of different things Sunday to jumpstart his team, including breaking up Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and putting Getzlaf with Erik Christensen and Teemu Selanne while lining up Perry with Bobby Ryan and Petteri Nokelainen for some shifts.
None of that is permanent, though, according to the coach. The Ducks will have Getzlaf and Perry back together, as they largely have been since coming up as rookies in 2006.
They also insist they aren't wearing down. Wisniewski returned for Game 5 and played 22:09, saying he was "a little winded" but fine after missing Game 4 because of a bruised lung. Getzlaf logged 21:29 of ice as he battles flu-like symptoms that limited him to 15 minutes in Game 4. Ryan said he isn't hobbling, although there's been speculation that he suffered an upper-body injury in the San Jose series.
But Anaheim center Todd Marchant said there's enough left in the tank to put forward a better performance Tuesday in a game the Ducks have to win.
"If we didn't have that sense, we're going to be going home pretty quick," Marchant said. "We're optimistic in here that we can play a better game of hockey than we did certainly in Game 5. We're going to have to in order to beat this team."
Has a last-ditch run to make the playoffs and subsequent battles against the top two seeds in the West and two of the NHL's very best teams in the regular season taken its toll on the Ducks? The answer will soon be revealed.
"I believe in this group," Carlyle said. "We've dealt with adversity for a long time through different spots of the season. What we're tried to do is we've turned the page on what happened (Sunday).
"We had to have a starting point. Our starting point started after the game."