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HELENE ELLIOTT

Ducks can prove a lot in Game 6

They can repeat the sorry effort they mustered in the Game 5 loss, or they can play like the energetic, cohesive group that took a 2-1 series lead.

May 12, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

The Ducks can define themselves and their season tonight.

They can repeat the sorry effort they mustered Sunday in a 4-1 loss at Detroit that put them on the brink of elimination and rationalize it by saying they weren't supposed to get this far, anyway.

Or they can play like the energetic, cohesive group that rose from the depths of the Western Conference to barge into the playoffs and upset the top-seeded San Jose Sharks, and make this a real fight.

They can allow themselves to be outshot, outhit, outmuscled and outplayed as they have been since Detroit scraped off the rust of an eight-day break before the second round, and simply give up.

Or they can play with purpose and leave the Honda Center ice knowing they did everything possible for themselves, their fans and each other, win or lose.

"We're trying to stay alive. It comes down to us staying alive and keep playing hockey," center Ryan Getzlaf said Monday.

"Whether that's pride or just playing, we're playing for our lives now. We could be done [today] if we're not careful."

A loss tonight would end their season and might conclude the Ducks careers of Scott and Rob Niedermayer, Todd Marchant and Francois Beauchemin, all key members of the 2007 Stanley Cup championship team and all eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1.

Tonight could also be the Ducks farewell for Teemu Selanne. He's under contract for another year but if the youth movement that began at the trade deadline resumes this summer he might not want to play for a rebuilding team at age 39.

Those players shouldn't have to leave with the sour taste of Sunday's desultory defeat in their throats. They deserve better than to skate off with gnawing regrets. They and their teammates have the power to determine that.

A victory by the Ducks tonight would force a seventh game at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday, and the Red Wings deservedly would be favored on their home ice. But one crazy carom or bad bounce is all it takes to change the course of a game, so you never know, eh?

To get there the Ducks must first defeat a Red Wings team that has scored 10 goals in the last two games and has become confident in its ability to coax rebounds off Jonas Hiller's pads.

It won't be easy, but the Stanley Cup playoffs aren't supposed to be easy. They're about riding momentum changes within games, meeting challenges, players and teams reaching levels they weren't sure they could attain.

For the Ducks to set a foundation for their future, if youngsters such as Bobby Ryan, James Wisniewski and Ryan Carter are going to join Getzlaf and Corey Perry as the next generation of leaders, they must take the first step tonight and compete harder than they did Sunday.

They can start by peppering goaltender Chris Osgood with shots because he is Detroit's weakest link and they haven't tested him hard yet. The Ducks have reached double figures in shots in only four of 18 periods in this series. The Red Wings have hit double figures in shots in 13 of 18 periods, including the Ducks' triple-overtime victory in Game 3.

The Ducks must also avoid turnovers and bad penalties, move their feet, and be strong in the neutral zone -- all the things they didn't do Sunday.

"Well, it can't be any worse. That's our starting point," Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said.

"We're looking at it like, 'Hey, we didn't play anywhere near the level that's required.'

"We've reviewed it as a coaching staff, but at this point it doesn't make any sense to dwell on what happened. We'll be judged by our performance [tonight]."

Marchant says he believes the Ducks will rise to the occasion.

"If we didn't have that sense, we're going to be going home pretty quick," he said. "We're optimistic in here we can play a better game of hockey than we did, certainly in Game 5. We're going to have to, in order to beat this team."

Carlyle, looking to shake his team out of its complacency, separated longtime linemates Perry and Getzlaf on Sunday when he put Petteri Nokelainen between Ryan and Perry and put Erik Christensen alongside Getzlaf and Selanne. Christensen fed Ryan Whitney for the Ducks' goal and nearly scored the tying goal late in the second period, so those are combinations Carlyle is likely to try again.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel here," Carlyle said.

No need to do that. Or invoke any of the usual and applicable cliches.

Lose, and you're done. Win, and you've given yourself a chance to create a lasting memory.

"I believe in this group," Carlyle said.

Tonight we'll discover if his players believe in themselves.

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

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Ducks vs. Detroit

Red Wings lead series, 3-2

Game 6: Tonight, 7, Prime

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