Case of punch-Duck love

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:01 PM ET

If imitation is the best form of flattery, the Anaheim Ducks must be feeling a little flush with compliments right now.

Because of the way they pounded their opponents into submission while winning 16 of 21 playoff contests to claim the Stanley Cup for the West Coast last spring, many of the other 29 NHL clubs have tried to copy the formula while loading up for their own playoff runs this time around.

Bringing in bigger bodies, encouraging their guys to be more engaging along the boards and in front of the nets, hoping to tread carefully on the edge between aggressive and illegal, those with the idea of replacing the Ducks at the top have done what they can to match the blueprint.

Now comes the tough part: Making the plan a reality.

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle admits he's seen a difference in the way opponents are playing his team this season.

"It sure took place through the course of this season with the lineups that have changed and the way that people are approaching us," said Carlyle in a recent conference call.

"We like to play a north/south game and we play physical, but intimidation to us is you have to win a puck battle."

Despite his Ducks being at the top of the pack when it comes to fighting majors, Carlyle adds their aggression isn't all about throwing punches.

"It's not always about the fisticuffs and whatnot. It's about the ability to take a check, to make a play and to make the right play, and to be physical and to stop progression and play our game," he said.

"We always respect the opposition, but first and foremost, we have to respect the system that we have in place, and the structure that we try to create and we go out and play it to the highest level."

It worked last season, and the league-wide rise in fighting majors this year -- back to pre-lockout numbers -- shows that others are following in the Ducks' webbed footsteps.

In late-season trades, tough guys like Jody Shelley (San Jose), Chris Simon (Minnesota) and Wade Belak (Florida) found new homes.

The Calgary Flames picked up more grit in Jim Vandermeer, who scrapped as often as any designated heavyweight down the stretch.

It hasn't gone unnoticed by the Ducks. But by no means do they believe brute strength is their only asset.

"We have chosen a route that we tried to apply three years ago when we came here, and we've had some success with it," said Carlyle. "Obviously, teams have taken notice of that, and you see more of those types of players in the lineup -- and specifically in the Western Conference.

"You still have to play the game on the ice, and it's the skill and the speed of the game that separates teams."

With players such as Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer on the roster, there's no doubt this team has skill.

But being physical is what elevated them from equally talented opponents a year ago. Of course, when it comes to the rough stuff, there's only so much you can get away with.

Ducks defenceman Chris Pronger was suspended twice in last year's playoffs and sat out eight of the final nine regular-season games this month for stomping on another player. So the Ducks will be closely watched by the league office as a result.

"Yes, we've talked and we've discussed and made sure that we want to temper our enthusiasm in some areas," said Carlyle, regarding Pronger's edge.

"On the other hand, people have to be allowed to play their game to be effective. We don't want to change people, we just want to make sure that people are understanding that there are some circumstances now outside that will draw more attention to you if you do make those mistakes."


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