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Ducks face changes when slow starts finally catch up to them

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) The Anaheim Ducks began the season by falling far behind in the standings.

They fell behind again in the first round of the playoffs.

It happened one last time in Game 7.

The Ducks rallied splendidly all season long, but finally ran out of comebacks in their final loss to Nashville. A talented team spent too much time scrambling out of trouble, and the current core might be out of chances.

Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf recognized the pattern in the aftermath of the Ducks' 2-1 home loss to the Predators on Wednesday night.

''We were playing catch-up the whole game, the whole series and all year,'' Getzlaf said. ''It came back to bite us here at the end.''

Until the final flop, there was much to like about the Ducks' fifth season under coach Bruce Boudreau.

They won their fourth consecutive Pacific Division title with a spectacular second half of the season, going 34-10-5 after the holiday break in their third straight 100-point performance. They had the NHL's best power play and its best penalty kill, while goalies Frederik Andersen and John Gibson won the franchise's first Jennings Trophy behind the league's stingiest defense.

But NHL success is conventionally defined by the postseason, and the Ducks again came up wanting in a seven-game series.

Anaheim's season ended in a Game 7 on home ice for the fourth consecutive year, erasing most of the good feelings from four months of progress.

''I thought we were going to win this, for sure,'' said forward Andrew Cogliano, one of four Ducks to play in all four Game 7 defeats. ''I thought we had the guys to push us through. I thought we had a great mindset. It didn't feel like years before at all, and I thought we played that way. We just couldn't put it in.''

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General manager Bob Murray showed remarkable patience when he didn't fire his coaching staff or make big trades after the Ducks' 1-7-2 start. He was rewarded with a spectacular second half by his team.

But after the earliest end to Anaheim's season since 2013, Murray's patience will be tested even more.

By most measures, Boudreau is among the world's top hockey coaches. He has won eight division titles in nine seasons with Washington and Anaheim, never allowing his teams to finish anywhere but first place while coaching a full season. The Ducks lead the NHL in regular-season points over the past four seasons, which all ended with division banners.

But even Boudreau realizes the weight of his postseason struggles on his reputation, no matter how much they deserve to fall on the players. The Ducks have won just three playoff rounds in four postseasons under Boudreau, twice taking the eventual Stanley Cup champion to seven games before falling at home.

''I just come to work every day until I'm told not to come to work,'' Boudreau said. ''The playoffs are a tough thing. There are 16 really good teams, and especially in the West, any of those eight teams that made it were good enough to win it.''

Boudreau's biggest problem was that the Ducks' best skaters didn't get results against Nashville.

Corey Perry and Jakob Silfverberg were held without a goal in the seven-game series. Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler couldn't coax any even-strength goals out of their lines in the final two games.

But those four veterans are all signed to long-term contracts, so if Murray is determined to make big changes, moving Boudreau would be much easier than breaking up Anaheim's core.

The Ducks' toughest personnel decisions could concern their restricted free agents, who comprise an impressive group of talent: Andersen, forwards Rickard Rakell and Brandon Pirri, and defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen. Anaheim also could lose valuable midseason acquisitions David Perron and Jamie McGinn, both unrestricted free agents.

Anaheim seems highly unlikely to be able to retain all of that talent. Andersen is a budding star, but with Gibson already signed for three more years, the Danish goalie could be moved because he would cost more than the Ducks are willing to pay - as could Vatanen, the offense-minded defenseman.

Murray has more free time than expected to make his decisions after the Ducks finally got a deficit they couldn't overcome.

''I don't feel like we should be done right now,'' Kesler said. ''I feel like we should be going on.''