The Anaheim Ducks have made many missteps in their defense of the Stanley Cup title.
They know full well their next one could be their last in this postseason.
The Ducks try to make a quick turnaround in their bid to stave off elimination in the Western Conference quarterfinal series as they host the Dallas Stars in Game 5 at the Honda Center.
Anaheim finally avoided the lack of discipline - and its consequences - that plagued it throughout the first three games of the series, penalties that led to the Stars scoring eight power-play goals in 20 chances. But on Thursday, it was the lack of offense that stymied the Ducks in a 3-1 defeat at Dallas that left Anaheim trailing three games to one in this best-of-7 series.
"We understand the situation," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "We've got to give ourselves a chance."
The Ducks played well on the penalty kill, not allowing a shot by the Stars in their first five chances with the man advantage. But the growing frustration at being unable to solve Stars goaltender Marty Turco was exemplified in the second period, when Anaheim had a potential game-tying goal disallowed and its 10-5 shot advantage over Dallas in those middle 20 minutes was deceiving, according to its coach.
"We didn't generate too many quality scoring chances," said Carlyle, who added his team was "too cute" with the puck at times in the second period. "As the game went on, we started to get more of a cycle going on, and that's our mantra."
The lack of offense is all the more glaring considering the Stars are now using three rookie defensemen in their rotation. Mark Fristic made his postseason debut Thursday, replacing the injured Philippe Boucher, and rookie blueliners Nicklas Grossman and Matt Niskanen have been effective by concentrating solely on defensive assignments.
"They have grittiness and skill," said Turco, who finished with 28 saves and 7.6 seconds shy of a shutout when Mathieu Schneider scored late for Anaheim. "It was amazing to watch."
Boucher is not expected to be available the rest of the series due to a lower-body injury, and top defenseman Sergei Zubov has missed the entire series due to injury. Stephane Robidas has played well throughout the series, and Trevor Daley also played well Thursday. But it also will be interesting to see how they respond to playing on consecutive nights after logging 25:50 and 23:30 of ice time, respectively, in the Game 4 victory.
If there is a positive the Ducks could take home with them, it may be that Schneider's goal was Anaheim's first in the third period of this series. But they also have never rallied from a 3-1 series deficit in franchise history, and are on the verge of being the fifth consecutive Stanley Cup champion to make a first-round exit in the postseason.
"Dallas is outplaying us," Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. "We just haven't played at the level we need to be successful."
The Stars have not won a first-round series since defeating the Edmonton Oilers in 2003, which is also the last time they closed out a playoff series on the road.
If the Ducks win, the series will return to Dallas for Game 6 on Sunday.