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Ducks reload looking to take last step to Cup Final

by Curtis Zupke continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

ANAHEIM -- The progression of the Anaheim Ducks the past three seasons has been impressive. They've advanced deeper into the Stanley Cup Playoffs every year since 2013, a run most teams would love to have.

However, each of those seasons has ended with a Game 7 loss at home, the latest to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Western Conference Final.

"When you go through those things, the only way to gain [experience] is to go through it," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "Hopefully our guys learned some lessons again this year. I learned some things. We can get ready for the next season and approach next year with the same attitude we had at the start of this one, on a mission to get back to have that opportunity again."

Anaheim is well-equipped for another long ride, and its offseason moves confirmed that their time is now with Getzlaf, Corey Perry 30 years old and Ryan Kesler 31 on Aug. 31.

"That group is not satisfied until we win a Stanley Cup," Kesler said after signing a six-year contract extension July 15. "When we do win that Stanley Cup, I don't think we'll be satisfied then either. We're going to want another one. We have the group to do it. We have all the pieces. We just need to put them together."

Anaheim shuffled some pieces at the 2015 NHL Draft, when it traded young forwards Emerson Etem and Kyle Palmieri in separate moves and acquired left wing Carl Hagelin from the New York Rangers. Hagelin, who signed a four-year contract on Aug. 14, figures to fill a top-six role on the left side and gives the Ducks a premier penalty-killer.

Anaheim probably would have liked Kesler to score more than the 20 goals he had last season, but that was the only disappointing aspect of his Ducks debut. They are otherwise set at center with Getzlaf, Kesler and Rickard Rakell, and veterans Shawn Horcoff and Mike Santorelli, each acquired because fourth-line center Nate Thompson is recovering from shoulder surgery.

Right wing Chris Stewart was signed as a free agent for his size (6-foot-2, 231 pounds) and scoring touch, and Anaheim has several prospects at forward.

Anaheim did not re-sign veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin. They did trade for longtime nemesis Kevin Bieksa, who is reunited with former Vancouver Canucks teammate Kesler.

The Ducks lack a true, elite-level puck mover, something that has defined recent Cup champions. Hampus Lindholm could be that player, but the unit is largely the same. In other words, Shea Weber or Duncan Keith isn't about to walk through the door.

"It would be nice, but if you can tell me where to get one, somebody please tell me and I'll go do it," Ducks general manager Bob Murray said. "I'm not afraid, as you know, to make a move. We got lucky a few years ago [with Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer]. Right now, I'm trying to grow it from within. I think I have a few possibilities to become those type of people."

The Ducks acquired goalie Anton Khudobin from the Carolina Hurricanes for depth after John Gibson missed six weeks with a groin injury. Frederik Andersen remains the starter.

One of Anaheim's off-ice moves was the dismissal of assistant coach Brad Lauer, who could not improve the power play. He was replaced on Bruce Boudreau's staff by former Ottawa Senators coach Paul McLean, who has made three trips to the Stanley Cup Final in his career.

The Ducks had all summer to think about getting there, and that lingering feeling of regret has gotten old.

"The unanswered question is still the structure when we get under stressful periods," Murray said. "When you're not playing well, you have to fall back on your structure. It failed us at critical moments."

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