There is a thin line that the Ducks would like to believe separates them from the NHL's elite, a line as thin as the crossbar-high, imaginary one they believe Detroit's Johan Franzen crossed when he deflected Pavel Datsyuk's shot into the net.
The goal, which came midway through the third period, and just 35 seconds after the Red Wings had tied the score, was officially the only difference in the Ducks' 4-3 loss that played out in front of a sellout crowd in a playoff atmosphere Wednesday night at the Honda Center.
But in reality, the gap between the last two Stanley Cup champions is starting to look as distant as the Ducks' championship.
While the Red Wings fight through their post-Cup hangover, the Ducks are still fighting themselves. They played with passion and at times played some of their best hockey of the season, but in the end Detroit made the plays it needed.
"We just found a way to lose," Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. "Teams that play with confidence, they find ways to win. The Red Wings did that tonight. They find ways to win. We don't always do that.
"It's not necessarily about the goals. It's about the fact that we were up 3-2 going into the third. At this time of year, in our own rink, these are the types of games that you need to have at the end of the day."
Dan Cleary, whose speed gave the Ducks fits all night, evened the score when he lost Scott Niedermayer along the boards and fired a shot past Giguere at 9:32 of the third period. Moments later, Franzen's goal put Detroit ahead.
Shooting is a habit for the Red Wings, who lead the league in scoring, even on their days off. The Red Wings spent Tuesday going through training exercises with a SWAT unit in Huntington Beach, where they were armed with pellet guns and split among good guys and bad guys.
"It was outstanding," said Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock, a frequent target of his players. "No one's dead. If you have enough clothing on, the welts aren't so bad."
Datsyuk, Cleary and right wing Marian Hossa had the Ducks' defense on its heels, and even defenseman Niklas Kronwell's clever stick work turned the Ducks inside out.
But the Ducks' effort got them places early. Ryan Getzlaf evened the score, 1-1, late in the first period and he set up the Ducks' two second-period goals with nifty stick work and precision vision, providing his team a 3-2 lead.
That Getzlaf was at his best against the Red Wings wasn't a surprise. In 20 career games against the Red Wings, including playoffs, Getzlaf has eight goals and 17 assists.
"I don't know if he gets excited when he sees my smiling face or what," said Babcock, the Ducks' coach when the club drafted Getzlaf.
The Ducks, who haven't left Southern California this year, are 3-4-1 since they last boarded a plane. Instead of gathering momentum, the Ducks have gathered more questions as they take to the road for nine of their next 11 games.
"We didn't play anywhere near to the level that's required," Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said after the Wednesday morning skate. "That's what's frustrating. We're still trying to carve out our identity with this team. What kind of team are we?"
Afterward, he was pleased with way his team played, if not the result.
"We did a lot of positive things out there and it's hard to swallow when you didn't get the job done," he said. "If we play every game like we did tonight, we'll have a lot of success."