ANAHEIM -- The five steps to a Stanley Cup are still posted in big letters on the walls of the Ducks dressing room:
Maintain a positive attitude. Every player is a leader in his own way. Play with self-disciplined aggression. Avoid making excuses. Unselfishness is essential.
Whether the men seated below those signs adhere to the script and become the NHL's first repeat champions since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings is another matter. No defending titlist ever made it back to the final since then and up to December, there was concern if the Ducks could make playoffs.
PIECES FALLING INTO PLACE
But the pieces have begun falling into place. Top defenceman Scott Niedermayer ended his retirement, Teemu Selanne could be returning and the newcomers are getting excited as the season's second half unfolds.
"The new guys, myself, Doug Weight and Todd Marchant bring a hunger," said defenceman Mathieu Schneider. "Not that they weren't hungry here before, but we didn't win and now is when you start to see what the (reward) is for a long season."
Schneider, whose Red Wings lost to the Ducks in last year's playoffs, says the mental approach makes all the difference in a league where many teams play a similar style.
"The new rules have lent themselves to that," he said of the post-lockout NHL. "All teams are fast, they're picking up the pace in games, they're concentrating on getting pucks behind the defence and getting as many shots as they can.
"You see a difference when you look at the old classic games on TV. Guys are bigger, maybe a bit less skilled, but every team has big men who can play."
The latter became the Ducks' signature, something the Maple Leafs have tried to emulate at times when they put behemoths Mats Sundin, Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky together and let them work down low.
But it helps when a player such as Niedermayer comes off his couch and on to the bench. He departed the New Jersey Devils a couple of years ago for more money, a chance to play with brother Rob and while he didn't see eye to eye with general manager Lou Lamoriello at the end, he does hope the Ducks take a page from the Devils' commitment to excellence. Since their Cup win in 1995, Jersey won two more championships and is constantly in contention.
"Lou put his foot on the gas pedal and didn't sit still with coaches, player personnel, anyone," Niedermayer said.
Niedermayer is invigourated after his time off, but said he still feels bad about leaving his team in the lurch.
"I didn't think it was right for me to do what I did," Niedermayer said. "There were things I missed and things I didn't miss. I thought I was done in the summer, but I just gradually changed my mind."