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Ryan Getzlaf said every season ending hurts if you’re not lifting the Cup, “it doesn’t matter what round it is.” I don’t think I believe him. I think it has to hurt much worse when you’ve come this close, this many times—two conference finals in three years—and when you feel you outplayed your opponents, and when you’ve been hit with injuries worse than any other team. I think it has to hurt a lot.

I believe a brusque Ryan Kesler agrees with me:

“We played good enough to win tonight. It didn’t happen. They have guys banged up. We have guys banged up. Personally, I don’t think the better team won tonight. It doesn’t really matter what I think. They got the victory. They’re moving on and we’re going home.”

Those are the breaks for the Ducks, who made up a two-goal deficit in Game 6 and stilled a raucous Nashville crowd, only to give up the winner three seconds after a fruitless power play. It was part and parcel with a game in which the Ducks outshot the Predators by 23. “You have that many shots and lose,” Andrew Cogliano said, “it kicks you a little hard.” You can only shoot your dick off so many times before it becomes impossible to reattach it.

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The Ducks sure have been part of a lot of handshake lines over the last 10 seasons. But they’re always on the wrong end of the last one.

The biggest and most obvious reason for the Game 6 loss was the disappointing play of goalie Jonathan Bernier, making his first career playoff start for an injured John Gibson. Bernier made just 12 saves on 16 shots, not nearly good enough with Pekka Rinne in the other net. Randy Carlyle—whose first season back in Anaheim looked a lot like the Bruce Boudreau Ducks, rather than Carlyle’s Cup-winning Ducks of a decade ago—couldn’t sugarcoat it.

“[W]e scored three goals. We should win the hockey game. Simple as that,” Carlyle said. “Playoff hockey. If you score three goals in a game, you should give yourself a pretty good chance for success.”

Yep. The Ducks weren’t the only final four team to lose their top goalie, but Bernier is definitely no Marc-Andre Fleury. Anaheim was also without Patrick Eaves for the entire series and Rickard Rakell for the last two games; they were the only two 30-goal scorers the Ducks had. (Eaves, a deadline acquisition, scored 11 goals in 20 games after coming over from Dallas.) Nick Ritchie was booted on a game misconduct just 11:38 in. These Ducks were shorthanded, as just about every team is this time of year, but they had it the worst, and they weren’t good enough or tight enough to overcome their handicap.

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But some blame has to be saved for the Ducks’ veterans, who didn’t step up when needed. Ryan Getzlaf had four points in the series, all assists; Corey Perry had two goals and no assists; Ryan Kesler had one lonely assist to show for the six games. All are 32 years old, and while they should be together a while—all are signed through 2021, with no-movement clauses—their window is closing, especially with how much each is making. The three account for a third of the Ducks’ salary cap, and they’re not getting any younger.

Perry and Getzlaf have rings, of course—at age 22, they were each crucial parts of the Ducks’ 2007 Cup-winning team. Kesler doesn’t. Maybe that’s why this stings so badly for him. “Chances go,” Kesler said, “and you never know if you are going to be back here again.”