DALLAS - The pain was agonizing for Corey Perry.
Not the physical aspect of recovering from a freak quad injury. Instead, it was not being able to help his Anaheim Ducks teammates when they dropped into an early hole in their first-round Western Conference playoff series against Dallas.
"It was like pulling teeth out. ... Half the time, I was talking to myself," Perry said Wednesday, explaining how he felt watching the Ducks fall in a 2-0 hole. "It was one of those things, I want to be out there so bad, it hurts."
The Ducks got new life with an impressive 4-2 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday night, when they scored three goals on only four shots in the first 14 1/2 minutes. And now the defending Stanley Cup champions look like they are going to get another huge boost.
Perry, their top goal scorer (29) despite missing the last 12 games of the regular season, went through another full practice Wednesday without any apparent setbacks. The 22-year-old right wing hopes to play in Game 4 on Thursday night when Anaheim will try to even the series against the Stars before returning home.
"It's getting better every day. I've been doing quite a bit to build up strength and get the leg back where it was," Perry said. "Today, it felt pretty good. ... I've been pushing it pretty hard to get back it game shape. It's playoff time."
Perry hasn't played since March 6, when the quad tendon above his right knee was lacerated by the skate of Colorado goalie Jose Theodore.
"Obviously, if he's able to go, it will be good for us," said Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks' leading scorer and one of Perry's primary linemates. "He's been great. He's getting all his strength back. Today, he looked really good."
A final decision on if Perry will play in Game 4 won't be made until after the Thursday morning skate.
While coy about the plans for Perry, coach Randy Carlyle expects it to take some time for the former first-round pick to get back to top form whenever he's back on the ice.
"If we decide to play Corey Perry, we will ease him in. I wouldn't say that it would be a lock that he's going to start," Carlyle said. "The guy's missed a lot of hockey and we're putting him in a real tough situation if we decide to use him. ... Sometimes it takes time for a player to get his feet underneath them. That's understandable."
Especially with the intensity level ratcheted up in the playoffs.
The Stars, first-round flops the last three playoffs, will try to regain control of the series after a horrendous start before an initially raucous home crowd. They have lost seven of their last eight home playoff games.
"That's in the past. Those were different teams. This team has one loss at home," Steve Ott said.
"We have to get off to a better start," captain Brenden Morrow said. "It's not a fear of playing at home. We're all comfortable here. I know expectations are high. Maybe it took us too long to get motivated. Our competitive level was nowhere near what it was on the road but it has nothing to do with the arena."
But after playing nearly flawless and outscoring Anaheim 9-2 in the first two games on the road, the Stars came home with a 2-0 series lead for the first time since moving to Dallas 15 years ago - and allowed three quick goals.
So instead of taking a commanding lead in the series, the Stars ensured a quick return trip to the West Coast for Game 5, the night after Game 4 and a three-hour flight.
"(Game 3) was good for us and our confidence, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us," Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. "Not just because we won is everything going to be easy now. Every game gets harder and harder to win and play."
Giguere stopped 31 shots, four during a four-minute power play late in the third period after a double minor penalty, not long after Morrow scored two power-play goals in a 99-second span for Dallas.
Perry has gone through several practices in the past week, and is ready to play after his unexpected hiatus. When he got cut, he figured it would only take a couple of stitches to get him back in the game. Instead, it took surgery and five weeks of rehabilitation.
"It was a freak accident that happens one in a million times. That was the million-and-first," Perry said. "If (doctors and coaches) give me the OK, it will be a huge relief. I just want to get out there and help the team."