Hey all. This will be my first post for Anaheim Calling, and part of my tryout process.
The regular season has finally come to an end, and to all Ducks fans, I present the question: Are you not entertained? I'll go out on a limb and say that, even though we haven't even played a single playoff game yet, this season is more entertaining than our 06-07 Cup season.
Hear me out...
That year the team gelled from the very beginning. They had a deep, talented lineup that featured the best D in the league and an amazing goalie in JS Giguere. We weren't underdogs. We were expected to do well, and we did. We stayed atop the Western Conference standings for most of the year and easily rolled into the postseason, a dramatic postseason at that, one filled with memories we will forever hold dear. In terms of success, the 06-07 season is the best we've had.
But this year, the drama, the comeback stories, the tension, everything that we as fans and the team went through as we waited to see if we would make the playoffs in the toughest conference race in hockey was much different.
Rewind to the first month of the year. Think of the comments and lowered expectations. Fans had given up around game 20. The defense seemed terrible, the top line was cold, some were even calling for us to trade Hiller. Carlyle and co. stressed the importance of a good start. We didn't get one. For the first couple of months, the team was terrible. We were near the West's basement, and some fans had already started boning up on their 2011 Draft research. Even the optimists had serious doubts and were talking about how good we'd be NEXT year.
The lineup was in disarray. The team couldn't put together any chemistry, and the stars weren't stepping up. It didn't help that we had injuries to guys like Lydman. Fans were rallying to have head coach Randy Carlyle fired. Something needed to change. But it wouldn't be Carlyle. Murray made it clear that a change in the lineup would occur before a coaching change was made
The turning point in the year has gone somewhat forgotten. Before a game vs Phoenix, Carlyle set up one on one meetings with each player, and since then, the Ducks were a changed team. To be honest, though, it took them a while to get their groove going. They would win games on the backs of individuals. Some nights, the goaltending would steal wins, other times, the depth scoring. It was at this time, though, that Jonas Hiller quieted his critics. His play, including a shutout streak that surpassed 150 minutes, earned him an All-Star selection, and he was highly considered in Vezina discussion.
On the offensive side of the lineup, there was one player who consistently showed up for the Ducks: Corey Perry. Our team features 5 players who were top 30 in the league in points, but they didn't hit their stride until Perry took the team on his back and won games for us. He not only stepped up his play and showed himself off as our offensive phenom, he inspired the entire lineup. His play, his drive, and his determination visibly lit a fire under the team. For those reasons, the chants of, "MVP" that rained down on him from the stands of Honda Center are completely justified. The month of December belonged to Perry and Hiller. But no one knew that Perry would elevate that game even further.
The streak that the Ducks had started in December hit a bump in the road when captain Ryan Getzlaf went down. Morale hit an all time low. LW Bobby Ryan was moved to Center. Fans believed that we were done at this point. The standings showed that this year's West race would be even more difficult than last year's (it truly was, as the playoff field wasn't set until the very last day). Indicators were that we were done. Perry took his game and stepped it up, and finally, the entire team followed. They went on an even better winning streak with Getzlaf out, and entering the All-Star break, they were the league's hottest team.
The bad start had us score-watching all year. Every game had an impact on our chances. We were playing well, but so was everyone else. Coming out of the All-star break, the main concern was continuing our streak. We did so, but unfortunately, our All Star Jonas Hiller ended his season due to vertigo related symptoms that continually plague him. We lost a few games after his return, and again, things weren't looking good. But, Getzlaf had returned, and Perry and the rest of the team continued to rally around the injury of their goalie. They won enough to improve, but lost enough to keep us sweating.
McElhinney provided enough magic to keep us rolling, and Anaheim was the 3rd best team in the West since January. In a bit of genius management, Bob Murray signed goalie Ray Emery and acquired Dan Ellis at the deadline. At the time, the moves were questioned, but eventually, they saved this team's postseason hopes.
We weren't prepared for March. It marked the worst point of our season and was the cause for our tension down the stretch. For whatever reason, McElhinney lost his cool. He couldn't handle the workload. Before a terrible losing streak, we went into March one win away from the Pacific Division lead and sat in fourth in the West. They seemed to be playoff bound, without any worry. McElhinney became invisible, and the Ducks dropped all the way to 12th, setting the stage for an epic comeback. (even though getting to that point was a comeback in itself).
Thankfully, we had traded for Ellis and acquired Emery. They held the fort well enough for the Ducks to come back. Perry continued his elevated play, the team continued to rally, though it wasn't that simple. Every team was desperate for points, and even though we would win games, we would be watching other teams, hoping that they would lose, so that we could rise in the standings. We found ourselves rooting for teams that we never thought we'd root for.
Simply put, any time a player stepped up individually to help us win, we can now credit them for getting us into the playoffs. Three more losses than we actually finished with was enough to miss the playoffs. Points were vital, and most games were decided with one goal (Anaheim had the best record in one goal games). Several games were decided in epic fashion. Down one to nothing, with almost no time left on the clock, we'd tie games and win in OT. We were convinced we would lose those games. It almost seemed like the last 20 games were the subject of an inspirational sports movie.
Eventually, we got to the point were it was more than likely that we would make the playoffs. One weekend became a hiccup (losses to SJS and DAL due to terrible officiating) and made things uneasy. The final 3 games gave us home ice. A 6-2 thrashing of San Jose gave us 95 and positioned us to clinch with just one win. We beat LA twice in a row and clinched the 4th seed after an unbelievable comeback.
Countless factors stood in the way of us making the playoffs: a horrendous start, injuries to star players, close games, terrible officiating. The whole ride was extremely tense. But through it all, the team (as it should) battled adversity, defied the odds, and as cliched as it sounds, they came from behind to win...that's what this year was. The ultimate sports cliche. And we couldn't be happier for it.
Hopefully, this epic story has a very happy ending. And among all the feelings this season has stirred in us as fans: anxiety, tension, happiness, satisfaction, nostalgia, aggravation...one thing that should be said about this year: it was undeniably entertaining.
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