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Struggling Ducks seek strong finish

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers

EDMONTON - On the heels of four consecutive losses and with the post-season right around the corner, the Anaheim Ducks need to start playing with some urgency.

The Ducks have dropped decisions to the Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets (OT) and Calgary Flames in the past 10 days and are 5-8-2 overall in their last 15 games dating back to Mar. 22.

"Everybody on every team has their own sense of urgency," said Head Coach Bruce Boudreau. "I'm hoping ours is starting to set in. We were in no man's land where we couldn't catch Chicago and at one point didn't think we could get caught. Now we've played so inconsistently that Vancouver could catch us and LA and San Jose could, too, if we don't start to have a little bit of success soon."

While Chicago was getting all the attention after a record-setting 21-0-3 start, Anaheim wasn't far behind. They've certainly struggled of late, but the Ducks have still posted a 27-11-6 record and sit second in the Western Conference with 60 points.

Problem is, they're limping into the post-season while the lower-seeded Wild, Blue Jackets and Red Wings are busy playing meaningful, playoff-style games down the stretch.

"I don't think anyone in here is happy about the way we've been playing lately," said goaltender Jonas Hiller, who made 28 saves in a 2-1 win over the Oilers on Apr. 8 at Honda Center. "You want to go into the playoffs playing well and feeling good about your game. Right now we're not where we want, nor where we need to be.

"We had a great season and we have to rely a little more on the fact that we're a great team instead of worrying about showing people what we can do. We went out and won those games early in the season because we played hard and everybody played with passion. That showed in the results.

"We seemed to be lacking that right now. This league is so tight that if you don't play with that extra bit of effort, that extra bit of intensity, you won't win."

Alternate captain Teemu Selanne agrees. The 42-year-old veteran of nearly 1,400 career NHL games has seen a drop-off in scoring this season, but is ready to put it all on the table in the stretch drive.

Selanne did not play on Friday in Calgary, but will be in the lineup tonight in his 900th career game as a Duck.

"We're not going to have any success if we go into the playoffs playing like this," said Selanne. "We haven't been playing well lately, but we have a chance to turn it around and that starts tonight. There was a little breathing room in the standings before, but now it's time to get back to work.

"It's human nature. When you clinch a spot (in the playoffs), players start breathing a little easier. Satisfaction is your worst enemy in this league."

In an effort to change their routine and bring some smiles back in the dressing room, Boudreau canceled Saturday's practice and instead let the group participate in some late-season team bonding.

"Sometimes when you're in a slump and are struggling, getting away from the rink can be a good thing," he said. "Yesterday the guys had a pool tournament and it's good to get out and have some laughter again, rather than having the coaches bark at them all the time.

"It was a necessary thing to do."

Despite the recent disappointment, Boudreau is confident the Ducks will get their game back on the rails.

"Even the older, experienced guys need a little guidance and a little rest," he said. "They get complacent like everyone else. They're also really good leaders out there, so I'm sure they're going to turn it around."

And as Selanne mentioned, "it starts tonight."

The Ducks have four games left in the 2012-13 season and will half of them will be played on back-to-back nights, tonight and tomorrow (Monday) against the Oilers at Rexall Place.

"It almost feels like the playoffs already," said Hiller, who will get the start tonight. "Even though you're playing the same opponent, each game is its own entity. Even if you win the first one, you can't automatically think that you're going to be given the second.

"It's not going to be easy. We know the Oilers want to end the year on a high note, especially at home."

-- Ryan Dittrick, | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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