By Cameron Matin
Disappointment. Agony. Heartbreak. There are not enough words to sufficiently describe the bitter taste the end of the 2015 playoffs left in the mouths of Ducks players and fans alike. For the third consecutive year, the Ducks took a 3-2 series lead into Game 6; and for the third consecutive year, they lost Game 7 on home ice. All the statistics, the metrics, the records and the accomplishments are irrelevant as the Ducks have yet another off-season to figure out what went wrong.
After teams are eliminated from the playoffs, fans often take solace that the team was making steps in the right direction and that “next year is going to be the year.” This loss feels different. In 2013, the Ducks were coming off a 2012 season in which they didn’t even make the playoffs- they were eventually beaten by an experienced Red Wings team in the opening round. The loss stung, but fans knew it was a step in the right direction. Losing Game 7 to the cross-town rival Kings the following year hurt, but at least it was to the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
But this year… the Game 7 loss this year was crushing. After a big name signing in the off-season in Ryan Kesler, a second straight top seed in the west, and a third consecutive Pacific Division title, the Ducks still have no cup to show for it. Yes, we can take pride in the 109 regular season points. And yes, we should be proud the Ducks were the best comeback team in the NHL. But it is precisely those kinds of metrics that make this loss so much harder to swallow. It’s tough to say, “there’s always next year”, because this year really felt like the “next year” fans are always referring to.
There was something special about this group of players; an intangible kind of swagger that had been lacking in years past. All season long, they kept fans hooked on Ducks hockey with their improbable victories and nail biting finishes. From top to bottom in the organization, to all the fans, everyone felt this was the year the Ducks would finally make that deep run to the Stanley Cup. It just didn’t pan out the way we expected.
“You feel like you pour your heart and soul into this” said Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler. “It’s a pretty empty feeling right now.”
An empty feeling indeed. The way the playoffs started, there was no reason NOT to believe the Ducks would be hoisting Lord Stanley’s cup in mid-June. After a dominant sweep of the Winnipeg Jets and a 5 game throttling of the Flames, the Ducks came into the Chicago series with a 8-1 playoff record. 5 games into the series against the Blackhawks, the Ducks held a 3-2 series lead and the ‘Hawks needed 5 total overtime periods in games 2 and 4 to get those wins. The Ducks were clearly the better team, and would surely close out the series as it seemed Chicago was lucky to even still be in it. But history, as we know, is apt to repeat itself, and repeat itself it did.
The Ducks could’ve won the series, they SHOULD’VE won, but they didn’t win. This loss stings even more than the Game 7 loss in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals. That team was a Cinderella story riding a goaltender with one of the hottest postseasons in NHL history. I can deal with that loss. But this team seemed destined to win, and just could not pull it out. It’s tough for the Ducks and their fans to look ahead to next season when they feel like they should be preparing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Instead, they will watch from home as once again, an early playoff departure sullied their summer plans to win the cup.
But as the curtain closes on the 2015 season and we take a look ahead to next year, there is a lot to be excited about. Kesler is still here and hungry as ever to win a championship. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf still have a few years before they hit their peaks. Frederik Andersen proved himself to be among the NHL’s top tier goaltenders. And the Ducks have a core of young defensemen who now have the playoff experience to go along with their incredible talents. So despite how badly this loss stings, it’s hard to look ahead and not think to yourself, “next year is going to be the year.”
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