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Ducks Return to Practice as Game 1 Nears

by Kyle Shohara @kyleshohara /

Familiar logos were in place and visible for all to see on Tuesday afternoon as the Ducks took part in their first day of practice leading into Game 1 against the Calgary Flames. Resting beneath a thin sheet of ice at each blueline is a large image of the Stanley Cup - a constant reminder of what they are pursuing - and large, bold text that reads STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS.

The Ducks are one of 16 teams on a quest to capture the most iconic trophy in professional sports, and arguably the hardest to win. They have reached the pinnacle once before - a glorious and memorable run in 2007 that represented the first Stanley Cup championship in California, four years after losing Game 7 of the Final in New Jersey. Anaheim came close in 2015 in a classic seven-game Western Conference Final against the eventual Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and then dropped a seven-game first round series last spring to the Nashville Predators.

But this is a different Ducks team now, both on the ice and behind the bench. Randy Carlyle is back at the helm with a new cast of players eager to re-write previous postseason shortcomings.

Patrick Eaves is among them, and he took part in the full practice today, two days after leaving the regular-season finale on Sunday with an upper-body injury. Eaves skated alongside familiar linemates Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell and saw time on the first power-play unit.

In fact, everyone except for injured defenseman Cam Fowler took part in practice today, including defensemen Clayton Stoner and Korbinian Holzer. Stoner hasn't played since November 15, but has been a regular participant in practice over the last few weeks. Stoner brings 31 games of postseason experience, including a 16-game run with the club in 2015. Holzer is back after returning to his native Germany last week for personal reasons.

Nick Ritchie practiced with the club today but will not play in Game 1 because of the two-game suspension given to him last week. He served the first half of the suspension on Sunday.

John Gibson and Jonathan Bernier staffed the creases today for the Ducks, and although the latter came up huge in the former's absence late in the season, it appears Gibson will take the reins for Game 1.

"Everybody is excited," Gibson said. "We're ready to get going. You play all year hoping to get to this point. We want to make the most of it. Whole new season."

"The playoffs are a different animal," said Carlyle. "We know the intensity level and physicality will go up, and space is going to be earned. There won't be anything given out there. We can be better and clean up areas of our game. Yes, we have viewed what the opposition has historically done. We've played them two times in the last week so there isn't a lot of secrets on what their lineup is or what they have historically done."

Veteran center Antoine Vermette embarks on his eighth journey into the big dance. The 34-year-old center jabbed a knife into the hearts of Ducks fans in 2015 when he scored the game-winning goal in double overtime in Game 4 to even the Western Conference Final at 2-2, and went on to score the game-winning goals in Games 1 and 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Vermette has appeared in 78 career postseason games, including 20 with the Blackhawks in 2015.

"You embrace the challenge," he said today. "It's so much fun. Every play counts. The energy and comradery, the group you go through the emotions with. What makes it special is the journey. The main goal is what we strive for, but it's fun. Everything is that much more intense and important. Little plays get the guys pumped. You try to support one another. That is what makes it special."

Video: The Ducks preview the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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