ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Every full season of Bruce Boudreau's coaching tenure with the Anaheim Ducks has delivered progress. Each year, the Ducks have advanced an additional round into the playoffs while growing into an elite team.
Each year has also had some distressing similarities.
Anaheim has lost a Game 7 at home in each of the last three years, blowing a 3-2 series lead every time. Last season's anguishing Western Conference finals against Chicago ended with the Ducks one game shy of their first Stanley Cup Final since 2007.
''All it did was it made us want to work harder and get better,'' captain Ryan Getzlaf said. ''We know we've got to push for a Stanley Cup this year.''
Indeed, those high-profile failures can distract from the many positives of the Ducks' steady ascent. The championship window is wide open for a roster containing an enviable mix of veteran talent and youthful fire.
The three-time defending Pacific Division champions are a favorite to play for the Cup, but they've also got a new motto emblazoned on their training camp T-shirts: ''Close is not good enough.''
With Chicago reshuffling its roster and Los Angeles needing a reboot, the Ducks seem primed to take charge of the West again after putting up the conference's best record last season. They'll have to earn a playoff spot through six months of steady work, but the Ducks are confident they've got enough talent and experience to handle just about anything the schedule can dish out.
''You can tell this is a team that knows how to go about its business and get the work done,'' new defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. ''We've got guys in this room who have played for the Cup and who have won the Cup. We know what the challenges are, and how to meet them.''
Here are some things to watch when the Ducks begin their season on Saturday:
NEW GUYS: When defenseman Francois Beauchemin and goal-scoring forward Matt Beleskey took big free-agent offers elsewhere, general manager Bob Murray got Bieksa from Vancouver and Carl Hagelin from the New York Rangers, trading Emerson Etem in the deal. Both new guys appear to be upgrades from the players they replaced, with Bieksa filling Beauchemin's leadership void and Hagelin injecting speed into an already fast lineup.
BIG BREAKUP?: Getzlaf and Corey Perry have been linemates for the vast majority of their professional hockey careers, but the Ducks' two biggest stars were split up during the preseason. Boudreau is trying to generate more balanced offense with the move, but he acknowledges he won't hesitate to put them back together if the experiment falters.
GOALIE GLUT: John Gibson is one of the top young goalies in hockey, but he is starting the season with the AHL's San Diego Gulls despite signing a $6.9 million contract extension during camp. Frederik Andersen's backup to start the season will be veteran Anton Khudobin, an offseason acquisition. Anaheim has delayed the inevitable decision between Andersen and Gibson by adding depth at the position, but Murray anticipates Gibson rejoining the Ducks quickly if the others falter.
NO NO. 1: The Ducks lack a prototypical No. 1 defenseman, but they have two young talents who could each grow into a comparable role this season. Hampus Lindholm, the tireless 21-year-old Swede, appears poised for a breakout after scoring 10 points in the Ducks' playoff run last spring. Cam Fowler is already a U.S. Olympian and a five-year Ducks veteran, but the 23-year-old's best hockey could still be in front of him.
HEALTH GOALS: The Ducks were on the receiving end of Raffi Torres' latest devious hit last week when the Sharks agitator made contact with the head of Jakob Silfverberg. Torres got a 41-game suspension, and Silfverberg took an unwelcome blow on the cusp of what's expected to be his breakout season after a strong playoff performance. The Ducks are saying Silfverberg won't miss much time, but his health will be a key concern early on.
NEW SWEATERS: The Ducks will unveil a new third jersey on Oct. 16 at home. This franchise made several bold choices with its uniforms during its first 22 seasons of existence (the Wild Wing jersey of 1995-96, anyone?). Their most recent third jersey eventually became their main uniform last season after a few tweaks.