ANAHEIM, Calif. - High-flying a year ago, the Ducks are down and out.
Like every other Stanley Cup champion of the past decade, Anaheim won't be repeating. The Ducks are one round and done in this year's playoffs despite having essentially the same cast of stars that took them to their first NHL title last summer.
"Did we think we could have gone further? Absolutely. Did we think we had a shot to win the Stanley Cup? Absolutely," Chris Pronger said. "But we're talking about things that obviously can't happen now."
Continuing a trend, Anaheim became the fifth consecutive defending Stanley Cup champions to fail to make the second round. No defending champion has made it back to the Finals since the Dallas Stars in 2000. Detroit was the last to win two titles in a row, in 1997-98.
"When you look at (the difficulty of repeating), you gain a lot more respect for those teams that were able to do it," Pronger said after the Stars eliminated the Ducks in six games. "You look at the Islanders, four in a row, Edmonton four in five, you understand the grind that it takes, and the toll it takes on your body, especially now with the game as fast and physical as it is.
"It's a war out there, and you've got to be willing to compete and commit and be the most determined out there. It's tough to come back. You look at the last three years, there weren't a lot of teams even able to make the playoffs."
Dallas, which had been eliminated in the first round its last three times in the playoffs, seemed to be a step faster, more disciplined and more determined than the Ducks. The Stars won the opening two games in Anaheim, then wrapped up the series with a 4-1 victory Sunday night in Dallas.
The four losses were just one more than the Ducks had during the entire post-season last year.
Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said the team simply didn't execute well against Dallas.
"Maybe that refers back to some trying to get that passion, remembering how hard it was to have success in the playoffs," he said. "The sacrifices and all the things that went your way because of the hard work that you put in, the positive bounces that went for you versus the ones that went against you when you're not having success.
"They had more going for their hockey club. It started early in the series. We were able to get it back for stretches in the games, but then we let it get away from us."
Anaheim's defence, anchored by former Norris Trophy winners Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, was inconsistent, as was goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The Ducks also lacked offensive punch, with the Stars outscoring them 20-13.
Then there were the penalties. After Dallas won the first two games, the theme in the Ducks' locker room was "play smarter." They got it together for a couple of games, but somehow appropriately, lost the final game after Stars defenceman Stephane Robidas scored the tying goal on a power play early in the third period. Then Mike Modano finished the game with an empty-net goal - with Pronger in the box.
"During the season we did a great job of not giving up too many goals and stuff like that," Giguere said. "We did that as a team, not just the goaltender or the defencemen. It was a unit of six guys on the ice doing the work.
"I think in the playoffs everything kind of fell short, our whole overall game."
Looking to next season, among the questions facing the Ducks are whether 37-year-old Teemu Selanne and 34-year-old Niedermayer will be back. Both sat out part of the regular season while they weighed retirement.
Selanne said after the last loss in Dallas that he enjoyed the season, feels as if he can still play at a high level, and will decide during the summer whether he will return. Niedermayer also is expected to take time before making his decision. Both said earlier they won't keep management waiting like they did early this season.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Dallas contributed to this report.