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Detail-oriented Ducks learned lessons from losses

by Shawn Roarke / NHL.com

CHICAGO -- Comfort has led to prosperity for the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ducks, who lead the best-of-7 Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, 2-1, are excelling because of their attention to detail in this series.

That attention to detail was brought into focus by previous heartache in this tournament, particularly the second-round upset at the hands of Los Angeles Kings in 2014, which went seven games.

As preparations for Game 4 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) began Friday at United Center, several holdovers have talked about the lessons learned in that Kings series; about how every individual decision and battle has the potential to be the difference when two teams are evenly matched.

"I think it's more of a mindset that you figure out that that little play matters, that little chip matters, taking the hit to make a play, getting the puck deep so you can make a good line change," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "Those things are very minor when you look at them individually, but on the scale of a game, when you're talking about not making mistakes in a Game 7, those are part of them.

"I think you learn them when you lose, you go back and watch the video. No matter what the score was in the game, no matter what the time was on the clock, [the Kings] were doing the same thing. They were getting the puck in every time, not most of the time, those things. You learn about those little things, I think, along the way."

The lessons have been well-learned as pain and disappointment are excellent teachers.

"It's not just sports; it's life," said center Ryan Kesler, who lost a Stanley Cup Game 7 with the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 and joined the Ducks this year as a veteran addition. "I think you take the lessons from losing and try not to duplicate them. You try to figure out what went wrong and what happened and try to shore that up."

Anaheim has spent the season shoring up its deficiencies, adding players like Kesler and forward Nate Thompson, remaking its blue line into a younger and more mobile version of itself, and mentally coming to grips with a style that best serves the team in the tight situations found in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We've had experiences during the year where we've been good in one-goal games," forward Andrew Cogliano said. "I think that has helped, a lot. I think there's guys that know the importance of when you're up, when you have the opportunity to win, you have to focus and bear down."

This postseason, Anaheim has played eight games in which they either led by a goal or were tied in the third period. They have won six of those games, including Thursday in Game 3 at the United Center in which they maintained a 2-1 lead throughout the third period. Each loss was in overtime, including a three overtime defeat by Chicago in Game 2, a game in which Anaheim first erased a 2-0 deficit.

"I think it's a mindset," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We talked about it early on in the year and last year, about one of our goals was to be able to, if we had a 1-0 lead, to win the game 1-0. We haven't done that too often, but at the same time, we've been pretty good in one-goal games for the most part. The two we lost were overtime games. Other than that, we've been pretty solid."

The Ducks now pay attention to the little details Getzlaf said were inherent in reviewing last season's disappointing playoff exit.

Anaheim blocks shots with regularity; defenseman Clayton Stoner calls it the culture of the team. Anaheim is willing to hit and be hit throughout its lineup. The Ducks will play for a stoppage whenever they are under duress, willing to take their chances on a defensive-zone faceoff than risk a turnover with an ill-advised choice under pressure.

In Game 3, Anaheim won 13 of 25 defensive-zone faceoffs in the third period. After Chicago pulled goalie Corey Crawford with 2:00 left, Anaheim iced the puck three consecutive times to relieve Chicago's pressure. Anaheim lost all three draws to top center Jonathan Toews, but defused the danger by picking up its assignments after the faceoff losses and taking away the majority of Chicago's shooting options.

"Our play is to get the puck out of the zone. It doesn't matter, we'll take icings, but you can't turn the puck over," defenseman Francois Beauchemin said. "Even when we lose faceoffs, we know where our assignments are and we just make sure we get the right guys. This is the safest play to do. We'll take an icing over a turnover that ends up in the back of your net any day."

Those smart decisions and that attention to detail has delivered Anaheim to within two victories of a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.

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