NHL

Ducks' season falls short of expectations again

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- For all their talent and tenacity, the Anaheim Ducks just can't reach their postseason goals. Whether it's luck, tactics or some ineffable winning mentality, the Ducks haven't acquired it yet.

One of the NHL's most consistent winners fell short of the Stanley Cup Final yet again Monday, outlasted by the Nashville Predators in the six-game Western Conference finals. The Ducks have won five consecutive Pacific Division titles during a remarkable run of consistent excellence, but they've also won only five ensuing playoff rounds and never played for the Cup in that half-decade stretch.

"This is the worst feeling in hockey," captain Ryan Getzlaf said in Nashville. "Your season is over, and you're not holding the Cup. It doesn't matter what round it is. It still hurts."

The Ducks were undone by small differences yet again in their second loss in the conference finals in three years.

After outlasting Edmonton in a seven-game series in the second round, they were even with the Predators after four games. They lost the last two in heartbreaking fashion on third-period goals allowed by Jonathan Bernier, the backup goalie filling in for injured starter John Gibson.

Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne outplayed the Ducks' netminders yet again while he eliminated Anaheim from the playoffs for the third time in seven years.

"They won the one series, but they're a good team, and we're a good team," Getzlaf said. "I just don't think they are much better than us."

They're not -- but neither were the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015, nor the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, nor the Detroit Red Wings in 2013.

The Ducks have cemented their status as one of the best NHL teams of this decade, but they've got remarkably little to show for their postseason endeavors. This run seems unlikely to lead to a major franchise overhaul, but every missed opportunity is an irretrievable chance to claim hockey's ultimate prize during the Anaheim core's ideal window.

"I look at our body of work and how we played, (and) I don't think I'd complain about our effort," said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, who returned to the club this season after Bruce Boudreau's firing for his playoff failures. "Yeah, we could make some definite improvements in our execution. But our effort was there, and we were a desperate hockey club right from the opening faceoff, and we didn't quit."

Here are a few reasons the Ducks fell short yet again:

UNTIMELY INJURIES: The Ducks played those final two defeats without Patrick Eaves and Rickard Rakell, who combined for 65 goals in the regular season. Few teams in the watered-down modern NHL could survive the loss of such key scoring, and the Ducks utterly failed to make up for their absence. Getzlaf began the postseason on a scoring surge with Eaves and Rakell on his wings. By the end, Anaheim's bottom two lines were devoid of NHL-level scoring talent. Gibson's injury absence also hurt, but the Ducks' lack of scoring was insurmountable.

DEPTH SCORING: Two-way center Ryan Kesler played his usual excellent defensive game, but scored just one goal in 17 playoff games. Linemate Andrew Cogliano managed a measly three points in the entire postseason, and veteran forward Antoine Vermette also managed just one goal. When the Ducks desperately needed secondary scoring, their healthy veterans didn't provide it. Even Getzlaf had a letdown: After scoring 15 points in Anaheim's first nine playoff games, he managed just four points in the final eight, getting shut out six times.

AVERAGE GIBSON: Even before Gibson got hurt and thrust Bernier cold into the spotlight, Anaheim's starting goalie hadn't distinguished himself with an unimpressive 2.59 goals-against average and .918 save percentage -- and he needed a late-playoff surge just to reach those numbers. Anaheim bet big on Gibson becoming a star by trading reliable Frederik Andersen to Toronto last summer largely due to budget concerns, and they're hoping Gibson continues to improve.

POWERLESS PLAY: For all their top-end offensive talent, the Ducks couldn't capitalize on power plays with any regularity in the postseason, missing out on an obvious way to address their scoring woes. Anaheim went 0 for 8 in its final two losses, capping a 2-for-34 performance in the final 11 games of the postseason. For a team with the power play-specific talents of Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen, that's alarming and unacceptable.