It was going to be a comeback that chased all their Game 7 ghosts out of Honda Center, a kind of spring cleaning four years in the making.
The Ducks threw everything they had at the Nashville Predators over the final 40 minutes, only to end up haunted for another summer. The third-period images that will stick are Corey Perry's losing the handle on the puck in the slot, Hampus Lindholm's shot that bounced off the post and Ducks players leaned over in as exasperation following a 2-1 loss Wednesday in Game 7 of a Western Conference first-round series.
“It's hard to swallow right now,” said Perry, who needed several moments to collect himself at the Ducks bench before he made his way to the dressing room.
It was the fourth straight year the Ducks lost a Game 7 at home. Perry and several other players were still in uniform, with their skates on, afterward.
“It's four years in a row,” Perry said. “A lot of guys in here that we're playing hard for. It's too bad we couldn't get it done.”
Ducks players weren't any closer to finding out the reason for their string of major disappointments.
“This was probably one of our best games of the series, but it wasn't meant to be,” Andrew Cogliano said. “I don't know what it is. I can't explain it.
“I thought we were going to win this for sure. I thought we had the guys to push us through. We had a great mind-set. It didn't feel like years before.”
Ryan Kesler shook the arena alive with a power-play goal 1 minute 45 seconds into the third period to pull the Ducks to within 2-1. It was the continuation of a long stretch from the second period on in which the Ducks dominated the game.
Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau predictably reunited Perry and Ryan Getzlaf midway through that period. Still, Jamie McGinn hit the crossbar on a wide-open look. Jakob Silfverberg broke his stick on a three-on-two chance.
For Boudreau, who is 1-7 in Game 7s, this was the toughest of the four Game 7 losses with Anaheim.
“With the way the score was, and the way we were pushing, I'd say yes,” Boudreau said. “Especially since how hard we had to push from November on, just to get to where we were. We did everything the hard way. We thought in the third period, we could still tie it up. And it just wasn't to be.”
The Ducks should have tilted the ice in their favor after they killed a Nashville two-man advantage and subsequent remaining man-advantage in the first period.
But the Predators took a 2-0 lead on Paul Gaustad's first playoff goal since 2012. Gaustad tipped Shea Weber's shot from the right point with 4:07 left in the first period. Colin Wilson worked the puck around from the left circle following a Ducks turnover.
Nashville threw a wet blanket on the amped-up crowd with the game's first goal. Colin Wilson poked the puck to himself as Ducks defenseman Simon Despres lost track of it and broke in on Frederik Andersen to beat him with a backhand.
That was all Nashville needed to book a second-round series with San Jose while Anaheim ponders an uncertain future.
“Obviously there will be changes,” Kesler said. “There always is. It's tough to see teammates go.”