- Mike Heika
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Seriously, folks, the Mighty Ducks want to know what all the concern is about.
So they lost for the first time in the playoffs Monday. So they'll have to deal with the pressure of bouncing back from a playoff loss for the first time since 1999. So they had their so-called Cinderella bubble burst. Is this really the time to question everything this team has done?
"We have lost before, y'know," coach Mike Babcock dead-panned. "We didn't go 82-0."
It's just that they haven't had many losses lately. Anaheim finished the regular season on a 10-3-1-2 roll, among the hottest teams in the NHL, so it really wasn't that surprising that they started the playoffs 6-0.
It wasn't surprising to them, at least.
"We've been a good team for a little while here," veteran Adam Oates said. "This didn't happen overnight."
And so, the Ducks contend, it's not like they're going to fall apart overnight. Yes, facing the Stars on Wednesday after a 2-1 loss in Game 3 of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series will indeed be challenging, but it will be a good kind of challenge.
"We know what went wrong, and we know what we have to improve. And now we have to do it," goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said Tuesday. "It's going to be a very fun challenge. It's a game I want to play."
And that goes for his Mighty Ducks teammates, too. Instead of dreading the response, the team was anticipating it. Instead of worrying about Game 4, they were planning for it. When asked if he was curious how the team would respond to the loss, GM Bryan Murray was matter-of-fact.
"I know how our team will respond," Murray said. "I've seen it all year."
He's seen it, in large part, because Babcock is such a student of basic psychology. The first-year coach has broken down the season into 82 "biggest games ever." He's broken the playoffs down not into a six-game winning streak, but into six one-game performances. He has given the Mighty Ducks a goal they can achieve.
Yes, a portrait of the Stanley Cup hangs in their locker room as a reminder of the bigger picture (and it is a big picture of the Cup), but Babcock won't allow his team to think too far beyond the next step.
He was drawing an analogy on Monday and pointing out that everyone has to have focus in their life. He said that when he's talking to the media at the morning skate, that's the most important thing he has to do at the time. Later, when he goes to lunch with his wife, he said, that's the most important thing he has to do at that time.
"You just have to stay focused on the task at hand," he said.
And the Ducks have done that. Of course, that doesn't mean they can't look back at their previous performances and look forward to improving on them. Veteran Steve Thomas said that, yeah, if you want to try to look at the big picture, maybe the team did buy into its Cinderella story headlines a little bit.
"We've been successful as of late, so it's not hard to think of yourself as the cat's (meow)," Thomas said. "So maybe we got a little bit ahead of ourselves, and now we have to get ourselves back down to earth and do the things that made us successful. It's a learning experience."
The bottom line is they lost 2-1, they had numerous chances to tie the game in the third period, and their goaltender shows no signs of cracking despite an onslaught of Stars' scoring chances. In short, they didn't play at all poorly in the defeat.
Still, after a loss, there is always room to improve.
"I'm satisfied with my game, but there's more that I can do," Giguere said. "There's ways to make stops that sometimes seem impossible to you guys, but there are ways that you can do it. So you have to find a way."
The Ducks plan to find that way Wednesday as they push to take full control of this series. And, to be honest, they say, it's the same attitude they had when they were winning games.
"If you won 30 in a row, you'd still want to get better," Oates said.
It's a philosophy that has carried this team all season.
Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
The Ducks worried about losing Game 3? It's not as if they've never lost before.