The #8 seeded Dallas Stars played their game, a dominating, aggressive skating style for the first 58 minutes of a must-win Game Six of their opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Western Conference #1 ranked Anaheim Ducks.
Unfortunately for the sellout crowd at American Airlines Center on Sunday, April 27, the Ducks were able to play theirs during one final frantic push. Similar to a surreal accident unfolding before your eyes, the Ducks’ agonizingly scored three goals in a 4:57 span of playing time during the waning minutes of regulation and the early stages of sudden death overtime for a 5-4 victory and six-game Stanley Cup Playoff opening round series conquest.
“It happened so fast, it’s a bit of a shock but I’m proud of our guys,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. “We battled hard all year. We battled to get into the playoffs. I thought we played a pretty good series against a pretty good team.”
“It’s so hard, and it ended so quickly, it’s just tough to describe it,” said defenseman Trevor Daley after a brilliant two-goal, one assist performance. “I look back and there were three games in that series that we lost that we really could have won. That’s hard to take right now.”
“(This is) a cruel lesson, but it gives us a platform to build off of,” said upbeat Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “Sometimes hockey’s cruel…..to a group of guys that worked as hard as they possibly could tonight. There wasn’t one guy that was a passenger.
“There was so much good in that game,” Ruff added. “The battle and the competiveness from this team have been unbelievable. I’m proud of the way they played; they played hard, they played really hard. You can’t sit here and look for blame, there’s too much good in that game. We have to learn from a couple of the incidents on the ice, just as we learned from Game Five. But we have a young team. We’ll learn and get better from this.”
With backup goalie Jonas Hiller pulled for an extra attacker during a late Anaheim power play, Ducks center Nick Bonino cut the Dallas lead to 4-3 when he walked out from behind the net and lifted a shot between the near post and Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen’s left shoulder and into the net with 2:10 left in the 3rd period.
“Quite frankly, I have to thank (Colorado Avalanche coach) Patrick Roy,” said Anaheim bench boss Bruce Boudreau. “If he didn’t start pulling the goalie so early all year, I don’t think any of the teams would have done it. He’s had such great success with Colorado. You see that more and more teams are pulling the goalie not with a minute to go, but with two or two and a half minutes. I figured, when you have to get two goals, it makes perfect sense so we did it tonight and we got lucky.”
Then, with just :24 remaining, Anaheim winger Devante Smith-Pelly culminated an extended wild scramble in the Stars’ goal crease by picking up the rolling puck and lifting it into the net for his second goal of the night to tie the score 4-4 and force sudden death overtime.
“I wasn’t confident at all (in a comeback during the waning minutes),” Boudreau admitted. “You’re always hopeful. But deep down, you don’t really think it’s going to happen.”
Early in voertime, the Stars made a brief sortie into the Ducks’ zone. Then, Bonino separated from his defensive checkers in the slot, took a pass from center Andrew Cogliano and beat Lehtonen with a wrist shot. The victory sends Anaheim into the next round of the playoffs to face the winner of the San Jose-Los Angeles series.
“It’s still hard to believe,” said Bonino, whose team led Detroit three games to two a year ago before losing Game Six in the Motor City and Game Seven at home. “I’ve got butterflies in my stomach. Scoring the winning goal in a playoff series is something you (think about when you) play in your driveway as a kid.”
“(Heading into overtime) I told them what I had been telling them all year, to bring focus and be ready to play,” said Ruff. “I thought we came out good to start but just lost coverage on the overtime goal. The room was upbeat and I told everyone to pick their heads up and be ready to go.”
Most of the fans in the raucous sellout crowd felt certain there would be a Game Seven after Dallas took the game right to Anaheim, grabbing a 1-0 lead just over five minutes after the opening puck drop. Daley emerged from the penalty box, took a long-distance pass from center Shawn Horcoff and scored his 1st marker if the postseason on a breakaway. The Stars power play, which suffered through an 0-for-7 night in Game Five, struck for a goal midway through the session when Cody Eakin one-timed a pass from Tyler Seguin through the pads of embattled Ducks goalie Frederik Anderson for his 2nd goal of the playoffs and a 2-0 lead.
Dallas answered Smith-Pelly’s 1st goal of the night on a power play when Ryan Garbutt hit the back of the net with a rebound in the final minute for his 3rd of the playoffs and a 3-1 lead at intermission. It marked the first time the Stars scored at least three goals in a post season period since April 27, 2008, when Dallas netted four in the 3rd stanza of a 5-2 win over San Jose in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals
The Ducks cut the lead to 3-2 when defenseman Ben Lovejoy one-timed a Teemu Selanne feed past Lehtonen early in the 2nd period. But Daley — the only current player that was also on the Stars’ last playoff team in 2008 – did an impersonation of the great Bobby Orr when he took a pass from defensive partner Alex Goligoski at center ice, accelerated inside Anaheim defenseman Luca Sbisa, pulled the puck back and lifted it over a sprawling Andersen for a 4-2 lead midway through the second session.
“(Daley was) spectacular, he really brought his ‘A’ game,” said Ruff. “How often do you see a (defenseman) score two breakaways (in the same game)? He defended against the best players in the league all year and offensively he was really coming on. He was a machine with the number of minutes he was playing.”
Andersen, whom Boudreau admitted was ill overnight and probably didn’t get much sleep, was pulled after yielding four goals on 12 shots in favor of Hiller. Dallas nearly opened a three-goal margin later in the stanza, but rookie forward Valeri Nichushkin hit the crossbar on a breakaway 25 seconds before the second intermission. Hiller earned the win after stopping all 12 Dallas shots that he faced. “This was a little more special for me (and) it was a great feeling,” said Hiller, who won 29 games during Anaheim’s best regular season ever. “I thought I had a couple of good stops right when I came in, and that gave me confidence. When you get the chance, you get so much adrenaline going.”
Coach Ruff was upbeat despite the crushing defeat. “You can’t sit here and look for blame in a game like that, there’s too much good,” he said. “We have to learn from a couple of the incidents on the ice just like we learned from the incidents in Game Five. Those players turned it around and were very good players again for us tonight. We have a young team with young playoff experience and we got ourselves in a situation where we didn’t need to put ourselves but our fans can be awfully proud of those guys that stepped on the ice and I was awfully proud of our fans. I don’t think half of them sat down the whole game. This building was something that helped push these guys and you could just feel the energy. That’s something special.
“I trusted every one of (my players),” Ruff noted. “We have a system that we play, and they know how to play in it. You look at the Eakin line what they were doing tonight and again they got on the score sheet, all young players no playoff experience, playing against one of the best lines in the league. It’s a great platform to push off of; my job is to make them understand how difficult it really is. We’ve set our bar at a certain level and now we have to push above that. That takes incredible work ethic, it’s hard to get in the playoffs. You guys know that, I know that, we hadn’t been in there but the work we put in the second half, some of the adversity we faced, this strong-enough-to-push-back-from, down two-nothing in this series, made us bring our A game.
“You ask what I thought our team would bring,” Ruff added. “They brought the best they could possibly bring tonight. And I told them, and I’ll say it again, I was damn proud of the way they played. I was proud of the way they competed. It’s a fun team to coach, it really is. Embrace this because we got some good players that are pushing through. My job now is to make them understand how hard it is to repeat it and to get better.”
Anaheim uses big 3rd period to pull away in Game 5
The Stars trailed 3-2 entering the 3rd period of Game Five on Friday, April 25 at Honda Center when the Ducks erupted for a trio of goals in the first seven minutes of the session to pull away with a 6-2 victory and a three-games-to-two series lead. Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf netted a goal to go with two helpers in his return to the lineup after a one-game absence due to a facial injury.
“I thought our second period was pretty good,” said team captain Benn, whose 4th goal of the series on a steal while Dallas was shorthanded tied the score, 1-1 midway through the opening period. “We came in here (during the second intermission), tried to regroup and come out with the same effort, but they jumped on us early. We took a stupid penalty, and that was it.”
Horcoff scored his 1st post-season goal on the rebound of a Vernon Fiddler just over eight minutes into the 1nd session brought Dallas to within a goal at 3-2. “I thought in the second period we utterly dominated,” Stars coach Ruff said. “(We) hit a post, hit a crossbar, spent the whole time down in their end, but it is tough. We lost the special teams battle and that was a difference.
“We played well all night,” added Ruff, whose defensive corps was bolstered by the return of Brenden Dillon, who had missed each of the first four games in the series. “We gave up an opportunity and it was in the back of the net. That took some wind out of us. We were pressing up the ice and the next opportunity was in the back of the net. We were controlling play but the opportunities we gave them were in the back of the net. (But) I like where our team is at. When we’ve been up against adversity, we’ve answered the call.”
Goalie Lehtonen made 16 saves and was pulled after the Ducks’ fifth goal, while backup Tim Thomas made one save and was beaten on Anaheim’s sixth red light.
Garbutt speared Perry at center ice as the Ducks’ star was coming onto the ice, an was tossed from the game just over nine minutes into the opening period. “I was coming back to the bench and got careless with my stick,” Garbutt said. “It was definitely something I didn’t want to do. I don’t want to put the team in that position, and I’m definitely going to learn from it.”
Ducks coach Boudreau disagreed, saying, “It was deliberate. It wasn’t an accident. It was pretty dirty.”
Dallas Stars Player of the Week – Trevor Daley
The talented defenseman brought the American Airlines Center fans out of their seats with two spectacular goals in Game Six of the Stars opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series against #1 seed Anaheim. Daley’s first marker in the first period concluded an exciting breakaway to give Dallas 1-0 lead, and his second put Dallas in front, 4-2 midway through the second period. Daley added an assist for a three-point night in the 5-4 overtime loss that ended the Stars’ 2013-2014 campaign.