There's only one word for Anaheim's loss: Tormenting
EDMONTON, Alberta -- As playoff losses go, this one will haunt the Anaheim Mighty Ducks for many a day.
The losses where you bring it all, where you bring the courage and perseverance of champions, only to find it's just not quite enough.
The haunting of the Mighty Ducks began in earnest in those final frenzied seconds Tuesday night, when the puck skittered by rookie forward Dustin Penner and his frantic efforts to backhand the puck into the open Oiler net.
Seconds later, the puck left the Oilers' zone and the clock ran down on a most improbable 5-4 victory, a win that gives Edmonton a 3-0 series lead with the chance to sweep Anaheim at home Thursday evening.
Standing in front of his net, Edmonton netminder Dwayne Roloson raised his hands to the air as if to say, "thank our lucky stars."
"I think it's a tough game for us. I think we feel we probably could have been on the other end of that one, but it wasn't the case," Anaheim captain Scott Niedermayer said quietly in the Anaheim dressing room a short while later. "Not much left to really talk or think about at this point. We have one more chance."
What a curious night of hockey.
The Ducks opened the game with a ferociousness not seen before in this series. The sea of noise that is the Rexall Place had barely begun to recede at the start of the game when Ducks enforcer Todd Fedoruk fought Georges Laraque.
By the 7:50 mark of the first period, there'd been a handful of meleés and the two teams had combined for 42 penalty minutes.
"They came out and they weren't going to back down and they weren't going to fold their tent," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said.
"We had to do something," explained Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf. "We lost two games in our home building. We had to come out flying and show some emotion and show that we had a little chip on our shoulder."
And for the first half of the first period, it worked. Sort of.
The Ducks controlled the play. They took penalties, but killed them off, which has been the Oilers' blueprint to success throughout the playoffs. Play not just on the edge, but over it, too.
The Ducks were outshooting the Oilers by a wide margin.
Then, just past the midpoint of the first frame, Anaheim netminder Ilya Bryzgalov was a bit too casual playing the puck behind his net. He ran into Rem Murray and Toby Petersen, who played all season in Iowa, tucked the puck into the open net to open the scoring.
It marked the third straight time in this series the Oilers have struck first.
For a long time, then, it looked like this game might follow the pattern of the first two: the Oilers scoring first and then hanging on long enough to score an empty-net goal to salt away the game.
But this one veered from the script dramatically.
Early in the third period with the Oilers still holding onto a 1-0 lead, Getzlaf sent a backhand shot toward an open side of the Oiler net. Roloson somehow sensed the puck and flashed his right pad. Skating away, Getzlaf stared at the replay on the video screen shaking his head.
On the next shift, Michael Peca blocked a pass at the Oiler blue line by Ruslan Salei and skated in alone on Bryzgalov. Gently settling the bouncing puck, Peca snapped his third goal of the series over Bryzgalov's shoulder. He has now scored in four straight playoff games and five of the last six.
It would be the first of eight third-period goals.
As though freeing a torrent of water from behind a dyke, the Peca goal melded into Steve Staios' first career playoff goal and then a Pronger goal with the Oilers enjoying a two-man advantage. Three times in 2:11, the Oilers scored to take a 4-0 lead.
Moments after Staios' goal, Laraque and Fedoruk tangled for the second time on the night. It was as though Fedoruk needed to sacrifice himself in order to curry favor from the hockey gods.
As Laraque headed to the penalty box, he raised his arms in celebration to the frenzied crowd.
"I'm never a big advocate of that," MacTavish said afterward. "It always comes back to haunt you."
And he was right -- almost.
The Ducks scored three times in four minutes to make it 4-3, and Rexall Place went still. Fernando Pisani, strangely untouched off a faceoff in the Ducks' zone, made it 5-3 with 5:46 left in the game. But Teemu Selanne, who had yet to score in the series, brought the Ducks back to within a goal with 1:45 left with his second of the game. It set up the final, frantic moments to the side of the Oiler goal.
"In my mind, it's absolutely embarrassing that we haven't won these games. I think there's a lot of good things out there all three games," Selanne said. "If somebody has to win four in a row when they are down 3-0, this can team can do it. This team hasn't quit one time this season and we're not going to quit this time either.
"The ketchup bottle is open so we just have to keep pushing," Selanne added. "Our goal scoring in this series has been like a ketchup bottle. It's hard to get it out, but when it comes, it's going to come and it's going to come a lot."
No doubt Selanne believes just that. But just as there is no quit in the Ducks dressing room, there is no question this series is alive in name only.
It is a fact of playoff life, being down 3-0 is the kiss of death.
The Ducks know that as well as anyone. It is why they played the first part of this game the way they did, with such desperation, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Oilers.
It is why they will think back on this game and be tormented by the things that might have been, the paths that might have been taken.
If Selanne doesn't take a penalty (a dubious one, according to Ducks coach Randy Carlyle), 19 seconds into an Anaheim power play, shortly before Peca's goal, maybe it all turns out differently.
If Bryzgalov doesn't get trapped on the Petersen goal or boxed out by Pisani on the Staios goal, maybe this series turns on a dime.
Pronger said as much.
"It would have been pretty disheartening for us to come back out and play overtime," the big defenseman admitted.
But whatever feelings of regret or relief the Oilers might have felt at nearly blowing this game, they will be gone by the time they wake up. It is forgotten.
Not so for the Ducks, who will wonder, over and over, what this series might have become, what might have become of them, if they'd made good on their comeback.
Those unanswerable questions are the chains that the playoff ghosts will drag around the heads of the Mighty Ducks for a long time to come.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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