Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau tried to soften the sting of his team's swoon toward the Olympic break Wednesday night after a fourth loss in five home games.
"There's a lot of teams that would like to be in our position now," Boudreau said. "We're going to overcome this. Everyone who wants to jump off the bandwagon, go ahead. We're going to be there when it counts."
Yet, after a 2-0 loss at Honda Center to the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim's once-comfortable perch is under undeniable attack.
The Ducks (40-14-5), with an NHL-best 85 points, now lead the Western Conference over Chicago (35-10-14) by just a single point, and the champions are emboldened that their rise has occurred with a 3-0-2 trip.
"We're fighting for first place," Chicago goalie Corey Crawford said after making 29 saves in the shutout while his penalty-kill unit staved off all five Ducks power plays, including separate five-on-three and four-minute advantages.
"The five-on-three set the tone for the whole game. … They try to get in your head, you just laugh at 'em. That was a big game, we have our chance to get ahead of them with one more game left," in Phoenix before the break.
Despite a more energetic effort from the Ducks following consecutive losses to Dallas and Columbus, Chicago center Jonathan Toews put the game away by scoring with two minutes 31 seconds remaining in the third period after teammate Marian Hossa scored 39 seconds into the second.
The Ducks had 23 shots on goal through two periods and trailed 1-0, their aggravation heightened by the failed power plays and multiple saves by Crawford.
The Chicago goalie relished knocking down a Patrick Maroon try, his mask nodding up and down.
In the Ducks' four-minute advantage following a high-sticking call, a Teemu Selanne shot was gloved and Corey Perry's blast was stopped by Crawford's chest as the period closed.
"If we capitalize on those," power plays, "it's a different game," Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said.
The Ducks through 56 games this season had never been shut out. Now they've been blanked in two of three.
Perry barked on the bench in the third period, and held the stick across his back after another denial.
"Emotional game," Perry said. "You're going to go through highs and lows in scoring goals. We had a good effort, the bounces just didn't go our way. … Lot of good looks, lot of good chances. It's tough to score in this league."
"We knew it was going to be tough, but if we have that effort every night, we're going to be all right."
The teams' combined record of 74-23-19 before the game was the best combined winning percentage in a meeting at this stage of the season in nearly five years.
Chicago started the Ducks' current 4-6 tailspin on Jan. 17 at United Center, winning 4-2, with Hossa scoring twice.
The Ducks opened Wednesday as if tired of discussing the distraction of the Olympic break that comes after Saturday's game in Nashville. They took 15 of the game's first 18 shots on goal.
"Much better effort," Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "Ran into a good team, good goaltender. Tonight was a step in the right direction. In order to beat them, we have to be playing at our very best. We're getting closer."