Ryan Getzlaf had just completed one of his most forgettable games of the season. He only took two shots, lost the same amount of faceoffs as he had won, and the Ducks were defeated by lowly Columbus.
Yet, instead of making a quick exit to the team bus, Getzlaf sat in his locker stall and all but delivered reporters a handwritten invitation to ask him about the team-wide flat night.
He wanted to preview the message he would repeat in a players-only meeting the next day in Boston.
"We're pretending," Getzlaf said. "We're not playing to the best of our abilities. We have guys, including myself — everyone in this locker room — who need to be more accountable to each other and what we're doing."
The Ducks (49-22-7) are 3-0 since, and could very well run the table with four regular-season games remaining — all against playoff outsiders — over the next 11 days.
"He does everything you expect from a good captain," Ducks center Nate Thompson said. "The great ones are good enough with the team that they can rein everyone in, bring them together, say what needs to be said and then go out there and lead by example and be the best player on the ice.
"That's what he's done all year."
With 24 goals and 68 points — 11 behind NHL leader Sidney Crosby — Getzlaf could stand as the best player on the NHL's best team at the end of the regular season.
That claim puts him in the argument with last season's league MVP, Crosby, Montreal goaltender Carey Price and goals leader Alex Ovechkin as the most worthy candidates for the Hart Trophy.
"I certainly would vote" for Getzlaf, Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "If I'm looking at what we've accomplished and who our leader is every night, then Getzlaf's the guy."
The center's tone-setting "counts for us," continued Boudreau. "Whether it counts to those who do the voting, I don't know, but it proves he's a great leader."
As injuries and illness short-changed the Ducks — more than 250 lost man games, not counting the season-long absence of defenseman Sheldon Souray — Getzlaf has been the constant. His longest stretch without a point was four games.
"There's been a lot of guys in and out of the lineup," said Corey Perry, Getzlaf's longtime teammate and linemate. "He plays in all situations [No. 1 power play and penalty kill], plays against top lines, does everything you need someone to do."
Perry, who won the Hart in 2011, said the Getzlaf-called meeting in Boston last week was more like a forum. It propelled "six to eight guys to step up and say something," Perry said.
"All the different things go into consideration [for the Hart] and his leading by example is key for us."
Said Getzlaf: "It's about embracing and understanding the opportunity we have moving forward. We had a good dialogue.
"You have to live what you're talking. If I speak to the guys, I have to expect myself to follow through on those same things."
Getzlaf said "finishing the way we want" is the priority before the playoffs begin.
The Ducks were surprisingly ousted in the first round of the playoffs two seasons ago, then were routed in Game 7 at home in last year's Western Conference semifinals against the eventual-champion Kings.
As he nears his 30th birthday on May 10, those playoff exits have brought both urgency and experience to complement the revamped Ducks for this Cup push.
Getzlaf, a valuable member of the Ducks' 2007 Stanley Cup-winning team, was a Hart finalist last season.
"I feel I've grown as a leader," Getzlaf said. "You're never going to be perfect, but I'm happy with where I'm at and hope I have enough credibility in this room where guys can look to me for certain things and I can deliver. The urgency's there. The biggest thing you have to understand is that opportunities don't come around that often.
"This is one of those years where we've found different ways to win hockey games. We're looking at it as the Stanley Cup is our goal and we're going to try and get there."
As for the Hart?
"I feel like I've done my part," he said. "You always feel like you can do more."firstname.lastname@example.org
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