Tough questions dog Ducks, Selanne

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller sat in his dressing room stall, his elbows pressing on his knees and stared straight down. He didn’t move. The disappointment from the Detroit Red Wings' 3-2 win over his Ducks in Game 7 was still too fresh.

Slowly, he started unlacing his skates for the final time in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, an exit that comes much sooner than he wanted. Than anyone in Anaheim expected.

For most of this season, the Ducks were one of the best teams in the league. They rode a hot start to the second-best record in the Western Conference. They had games against the No. 1 seeded Blackhawks that scouts who witnessed live called the best games of the NHL’s regular season. Two high-powered teams going toe-to-toe.

The Ducks felt like they could play with anyone. They thought this season was going to be special. It might still be for the Blackhawks, it won’t be for Anaheim.

With a deep breath, Hiller tried to put into words just how deep this wound from the Red Wings, a group that refused to be eliminated, truly cut.

"Everybody felt like we had something good going," said Hiller, who stopped 29 of 32 shots against the Red Wings. "Everybody was hoping that it was going to go a long way."

It ended when the Wings were able to dig deeper in the final two games of the series and raise their level of play. The Ducks never did.

"It seemed like we didn’t [find] that extra step that we can add a little bit extra for the playoffs," Hiller said. "Detroit definitely found a way to play better than us. It’s definitely frustrating."

In the first two months of the season, a span of 18 games, the Ducks lost a total of four games. The Red Wings managed to beat them that many times in one seven-game series.

The hot start completely catapulted the expectations in Anaheim, especially considering the Ducks finished 25th in the league last season. And this group started to believe. They bonded during extended informal training sessions during the lockout. They got incredible goaltending from a duo of Hiller and Viktor Fasth that was as good as any in the league.

The shortened season seemed to favor veterans Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Sheldon Souray, who didn’t have to grind it out for 82 games.

And they had two games to close out the Red Wings, to prove that their impressive regular season wasn’t a fluke. It never happened.

"As a group of guys, we have to learn something from this," 42-year-old Selanne said. "I think we deserved better than this. That’s hockey, you never know."

The Selanne factor makes it even tougher. He said he’ll take his time before making a decision about retirement, like he always does. He’s still having a great time playing and loves the future this Ducks team has with impressive young players Emerson Etem, Nick Bonino and Kyle Palmieri having standout playoff performances.

But his biggest impact was limited to the power play. He scored only once in this series and that came in Game 1. With the Ducks season on the line, he played 12:55.

Even if he returns, it’s clear his role will continue to evolve on this team, although not his impact within the walls of the Ducks' dressing room.

"He’s been here since Day 1 for me," Corey Perry said. "He’s a big inspiration."

Selanne didn’t have enough. Perry, who was held scoreless, didn’t either. The hot start coming out of the lockout felt like a completely different season following this Game 7 loss. January and February seem so long ago.

"I’m very proud of these guys, how … we really found the way to get everything going and start clicking right away," Selanne said of the season. "That’s a good sign. In the end, only the end matters."