There’s nothing wrong with learning from your own mistakes, but there is a better way.
Learn from someone else’s.
That’s the opportunity that was presented to the Ducks on Tuesday night by the Lightning. Tampa Bay held a 3–2 series lead heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Rangers, but instead of finishing off New York, the Lightning were overwhelmed by a more experienced opponent. And now, after an ugly 7–3 loss, they face the prospect of a winner-take-all Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers and their goalie have been unbeatable in elimination games.
The Game 7 scenario against a tough, resilient foe is one Anaheim hopes to avoid heading into its own Game 6 showdown with the Blackhawks on Wednesday night in Chicago (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; CBC; TVA).
Like the Ducks, Tampa Bay relies heavily on a core of young players. Their inexperience on the big stage may have had something to do with their failure to close out the series against New York.
“We've got a young group,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the loss. “They've played some unreal hockey here to get us this far. [But] we showed if we're not going to play the proper way, a really, really good hockey team is going to beat you, and that's what they did.
“It's a lesson learned.”
And it’s a lesson that can be used by Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau as he leads the Ducks into Game 6 against Chicago. Anaheim’s blue-line corps is so young it’s practically a green-line corps. Before this season, five of the Ducks’ six defenseman had skated in 20 playoff games or fewer. Two, Simon Despres and Sami Vatanen, had played fewer than 10. And goaltender Frederik Andersen, who did everything but hand Game 5 to the Hawks, had just seven such games under his belt.
Boudreau can’t stick his youngsters in a hothouse and mature them overnight, but he can show them Tampa Bay’s biggest shortcoming—its inability to cash in on chances.
Despite the East’s 3–3 series deadlock, it hasn’t been all that close. In fact, the Lightning have been the better team throughout, including the majority of Tuesday night’s blowout loss. Tampa Bay has played with more passion and desperation than the Rangers, and scoring opportunities have been plentiful. But when the Lightning were unable to cash in—a testament to the fine play of goalie Henrik Lundqvist—they sagged. Eventually, the game slipped away from them in the third period.
If New York has one advantage over Tampa Bay, it’s mental toughness. The same could be said for Chicago with regard to Anaheim. Ten Blackhawks players have a pair of Stanley Cup rings to go along with five Western Conference finals appearances in the last seven years. Chicago’s core group has done it all, including working its way out of this same spot before. Back in 2013, the Hawks fell behind the Red Wings 3–1 in the conference semifinals before rebounding to take Games 5, 6 and 7 on their way to the 2013 Cup championship.
They’ll be ready on Wednesday night. The Ducks’ youngsters will have to match Chicago’s determination. But they won't be going it alone.
Unlike the Lightning, Anaheim has an experienced leadership group. Three core players—Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin—won the Stanley Cup in 2007. Both Perry and Getzlaf have also won two Olympic gold medals. And Ryan Kesler’s been around the block as well, with the Canucks’, who went to the Cup finals in 2011.
If the kids begin to buckle under the pressure, those four can show them the way. The conference championship can belong to the Ducks ... if they’re up to it.
RANKING THE 10 GREATEST CONFERENCE FINALS
The numbers game
• The Blackhawks have yet to lose consecutive games in these playoffs.
• Now 15–3 in their last 18 elimination games dating back to 2012, the Rangers have the most such wins by any NHL team in a four-year span.
• The five goals that New York scored in the third period on Tuesday night were the most in a single playoff frame since 1979, when the Rangers scored six in the third period against the Flyers. The Blueshirts are trying to reach back-to-back Stanley Cup finals for the third time in franchise history, and first since they did so in 1932 and ’33.
• Gary Lawless writes that a win tonight could finally earn Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau the respect that he’s long deserved.
• Jeff Blashill’s a little busy with the AHL playoffs right now but he plans to meet with Detroit GM Ken Holland this week to discuss the Red Wings’ coaching vacancy.
• The best part of these conference finals is that you never know what you’re going to get.