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What NHL teams learn by losing in the playoffs

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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

It was the 1998 Western Conference finals, and the Dallas Stars had just beaten the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.

Much like the Ducks' wild win on Monday night, it was over quickly, with Jamie Langenbrunner scoring 46 seconds into overtime on a shot from center ice. Dallas' win cut Detroit’s lead in the series to 3-2, and the Stars were suddenly feeling good about their chances against the reigning champions.

The next day, coach Ken Hitchcock and GM Bob Gainey were getting on the team plane when Hitchcock expressed his optimism. He thought the veteran Red Wings looked tired.

“We look fresher than they are,” Hitchcock told Gainey.

Hitchcock has never forgotten the response from Gainey, a winner of five Stanley Cups as a player with the Montreal Canadiens.

“You’d better make sure every player is ready to play their absolute best. What you’re going to get, you’re never going to forget,” Gainey answered.

The statement was absolutely true.

Detroit, a team that looked tired in the overtime loss, shut out the Stars 2-0 in Game 6. Chris Osgood, after letting in that memorable goal, was perfect. Dallas’ season was over. The Red Wings went on to win another championship.

“I’d never seen a team play with that type of ferociousness in their competition, in their game -- shift-by-shift, man-by-man,” Hitchcock said when we chatted Monday. “That game in 1998 set us up for three years. We thought we were at a level, there was a whole other level out there that no one had experienced other than a few guys who had played for Montreal. We had never seen it before.”

One year later, the Dallas Stars were raising the Stanley Cup.

Winning the Stanley Cup is a process, and typically along the way in that process, there is pain.