After the Mighty Ducks' best performance of the playoffs, after they'd sustained their domination and their shutout streak for a third consecutive game, Coach Randy Carlyle was his usual effusive self in the locker room Sunday afternoon.
"He came in and said, 'Good job. Bus leaves tomorrow at 9,' " winger Joffrey Lupul said.
"He doesn't really show his emotions either way, unless we stink the joint out. That's the only time we hear it."
Carlyle had little reason to offer much criticism. The Ducks' 3-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at the Arrowhead Pond was comprehensive, another textbook display of relentless penalty-killing, opportunistic offense and sacrifice-your-
They'd ended their first-round series against Calgary with a 3-0 triumph and defused suspicion that it might have been a fluke when they blanked the Avalanche on Friday, 5-0, to open the teams' second-round series. They were more powerfully persuasive Sunday than they'd been two days earlier, scoring their goals in the first two periods and killing six disadvantages while displaying no weakness that the Avalanche could exploit.
"We weren't up to the level of them again tonight," Colorado defenseman Rob Blake said.
Not even close.
After toying with the Avalanche for the first five periods of the series, the Ducks held off Colorado's too-little, too-late third-period push Sunday and preserved goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov's 229-minute 42-second shutout streak.
They'd proved they can play a rugged game when they rallied to defeat the Calgary Flames in the first round, and they've shown in the first two games against Colorado that they can clamp down on defense and still generate chances at the other end.
They also proved another important point.
As much as this team reflects the personality of General Manager Brian Burke, who has dramatically revamped the roster to emphasize youth and speed and toughness, it is also a reflection of Carlyle, whose gruff exterior masks a sensitive gauge of what his players need, whether they know it or not. Or whether they want it or not.
Burke deserves credit for ridding the team of dead wood and burdensome contracts and acquiring useful players such as Francois Beauchemin, Todd Marchant and Sean O'Donnell. But Carlyle deserves praise for taking what he was given and molding it into a team, not merely a group of players thrown together in sweaty camaraderie.
"A lot of times, when you talk about the hockey team, you're talking about it being like family," center Marchant said. "How in your own family, people make sacrifices and they're willing to go that extra mile. They're willing to do absolutely anything for that person in that family.
"It's not just a cliche in this dressing room. Everyone in this dressing room is willing to go the extra mile for the guy sitting next to him. As a result, it's a great atmosphere to be around. Everybody's got a role. Everybody knows what they've got to do. You genuinely care about everyone else in here."
Carlyle cares enough to criticize those he knows are wasting their talent or time. It was Carlyle who insisted that Beauchemin lose weight and improve his conditioning; the rookie defenseman has responded well enough to become one of the revelations of the playoffs. Carlyle criticized Dustin Penner on Friday for not moving his feet, and Penner responded Sunday with a fine effort in which he set up the Ducks' final goal.
Carlyle is also smart enough to know when to ease up. He led the team through an outdoor practice on Ottawa's Rideau Canal in January, aware that players wouldn't get much work done but knowing they might enjoy a reminder -- or a first taste -- of what it's like to play with wool hats and joyful abandon. Later, just before the Olympic break, he took players on a bike ride through Vancouver's Stanley Park, changing the routine while keeping the team together and giving players a workout.
Perhaps most important, he chose not to conduct a practice before Game 7 of the Calgary series and instead took players to play pool. It helped that he became the day's comic relief when the TV in the pool hall began to show an old playoff game in which Carlyle's Winnipeg Jets were thoroughly embarrassed by Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers.
"I think the decision to have a day off before Game 7 was the difference in the game," Burke said. "He's innovative that way.
"I like guys who demand performance and shorten the bench when it's appropriate. If a guy's not going well, he doesn't get any ice, and that's the way it ought to be.
"I like coaches that pour energy into the team, that add intensity to the team. He's always done that. You hear him on the bench, constantly talking to the players. But he's a players' coach too. ... as far as days off and practices. He runs great practices. He was the guy I wanted."
And, as it turns out, the guy the Ducks needed.