Is it a goalie controversy if you go into the post-season with at least two and possibly three netminders that you could throw in there and not worry about? That was one question that Ducks fans were asking as the team’s opponent for the first round, the Dallas Stars, rolled into town. Thing is, Jonas Hiller was the holder of the job, until he went off to Sochi. When he came back, the hot hand he’d had all year (24 wins to that point) went cold-ish. That is, he came out of the break the way he went into it—with a win—and then lost a couple in OT and one outright before winning another, then losing.
In a season when the team was mostly winning, that wasn’t good enough, and someone else got a crack. That person? Frederik Andersen, who had himself won 14 games to that point. Hiller and Andersen traded starts over the course of the next few weeks, and each posted wins. Then, with Andersen hurt, John Gibson came in, got a shutout in his first start, and posted two more wins to round out his first campaign.
Meanwhile, Hiller dressed as a backup a couple of times and was held out for the last two games of the year, presumably to rest.
He’s rested, and he’s still resting, because after making vague but very Boudreau-like statements such as something on the order of, “one of the three” will start the first game Wednesday night, Boudreau in fact started Andersen.
Early on, he didn’t have to do much. Though Dallas poured 14 shots on him in the first period, only one or two were dangerous. The Stars did penetrate in the second five minutes of the period, but by that time, the Ducks were starting to find their legs.
It had taken them only 1:53 to score the first goal, Kyle Palmieri got it, showing what one pundit IH spoke with called, “The patience of a real goalscorer.” It’s not possible for me to verify this firsthand—I was on the freeway at the time, having taken more than an hour to get to the game in late-afternoon traffic. Oh yes, Anaheim is in fact Los Angeles, as the baseball team says it is. But Dallas goalie Lehtonen talked about it, saying that he hated to allow the early goal. It was on a breakaway, and that was a drag for him. “It’s always, of course you can do something more. I closed my stick a little but not enough. You want to but you don’t want your first shot to be a breakaway, but if you make that save, you feel great and go from there. Today, I wasn’t able to do that, and it was tough to go from there.”
The Stars had the benefit of three Anaheim penalties in the period but scored on none of those chances. The Ducks, meanwhile, did covert on a power play, but that was their third goal. The second one was classic hard play on Anaheim’s part.
Francois Beauchemin gave the puck away in close to his net, and the Stars had a scoring chance. The puck ended up back at the point, where a slapshot was blocked. Immediately, the Ducks charged up ice, with Beleskey putting a puck so hard into Lehtonen’s mask that he stunned him.
Before the puck had even hit the ice on the rebound, Getzlaf whacked it out of the air and in to make it 2-0. The third goal, with about 30 seconds left in the period, was a one-timer by Perreault just inside the post. Just as in, a quarter inch. Patrick Maroon assisted along with Getzlaf.
That answered a question many have had, as did the assist added to Getzlaf’s goal, that going to Perry, given early in period two: Will what people in this area call “the twins,” Perry and Getzlaf, produce early and often in the playoffs?
They didn’t do that in the loss against Detroit in round one last year. By the end of Wednesday, they had three points between them.
Here’s a more to put this series into perspective. The Ducks got bounced by Detroit last year in a seventh game after leading their series 3-2. The Stars haven’t been in the playoffs since 2008. At that time, they defeated the Anaheim Ducks, ending the reign of the then-Stanley Cup champions.
The Stars were a marginal team most of the year, securing their playoff spot only on the weekend (Friday, actually). Despite some Dallas pundits giving the Stars the edge in goaltending due to the uncertainty cited earlier as to who is the Anaheim starter, the Stars’ number one, Kari Lehtonen, has just two playoff games in his career, with Atlanta.
The team as a whole has thirteen roster players who have never found their way to the post-season in the past. The Ducks are a group that still has the same core, albeit a small one, of players who were with the team during the Stanley Cup year, including Perry, Getzlaf, Beauchemin, and Scott Niedermeyer, though he’s watching from above as a coach.
The Stars and Ducks have almost identical power play numbers, neither very good. The home team on Wednesday finished the regular season 22nd in the league at 16 percent, with the visitors just behind them at 15.9 percent for 23rd. On the other side, the Ducks were 13th in the PK department, with Dallas 21st. The percentage numbers, respectively, were 82.2 percent versus 81.4, but the old Scotty Bowman saying is that those two numbers, PK and PP, are supposed to add up to one hundred. For neither team was that true.
That wasn’t evident, at least in the PP department, on this night, as in the second period, Dallas added two goals, one on the power play. This after the Ducks had added one to their first-period total, a slapshot by Beauchemin that Matt Beleskey got a knee on in front of the net. That, too, was scored on the PP. So the Ducks had run it to four with no answer from Dallas.
By the end of the second, it was 4-2 and could have been worse.
It was a classic case of sitting back, and the game edged dangerously close to 4-3. The Dallas goals were scored at 16:36 and 18:09, but with less than a minute left, the Stars stole a puck at the half boards and fed it out front to Benn, who deked and was alone. He was about a dozen feet out in the slot, and he fired a wrist shot that Andersen got with his trapper, but it was a dangerous shot, a dangerous chance, and all the Ducks likely needed to scare them straight.
Boudreau wouldn’t even have had to say, “But for Freddie, it’s 4-3 right now, fellows.” And it all happened so fast. One moment it was a shutout, then next, almost tied. Coach Boudreau wasn’t unhappy with the netminding, as he discussed after the game. “I thought [Andersen] was great. My confidence in him hasn’t waned one iota, and that’s how he’s played for us all year.” He elaborated, “I thought that down the stretch he played the best. He played some big, important games that we had to win, and his nerves didn’t bother him. I thought it was an easy choice for me.”
The shots had evened at 21 with about five minutes left in period two, but they were 27-22 in Dallas’s favor at the end of the period. That means that Dallas was pouring it on, obviously.
The penalty that they scored goal two on, by the way, was not the fault of anyone in particular. It was a too many men penalty, the second one the Ducks took during the game to that point. That’s something you don’t see every day. Or very often. Or hardly ever.
Boudreau explained how that happened: “We have to pay better attention. They knew who was up, and two guys went for one guy. On the second [penalty], two of our players were coming off the ice, and one stopped to interfere with one of their guys, and once you’re not off the ice, and you’re interfering with somebody else, they’re going to call that automatically.”
He also said, “When teams score goals late, they get the momentum. The other team [his] ends up playing defensively. I thought that halfway through the game, we weren’t in control of the situation.” He was not slow to critique his team. “I’m sure we didn’t put the fear of God into them tonight, and they probably gained some confidence by it. We didn’t play that good, I didn’t think. We have to play a lot better if we want to win anything. I thought we gave the puck away too many times tonight, especially early. We got a 2-0 lead, but then they had the puck in our zone. We’ll go back to the drawing board. Hopefully we’ll learn. We got the first game over with, and now that you know what you’re dealing with, we’ll be better next game.”
So what can be learned from a near-miss like Dallas had? First, that the Ducks can be defeated. It’s just a little much to ask that you come back from down 4-0 to do that. Dallas star Tyler Seguin said in his brief comments in the locker room, “We need to play the full game. Except for the first ten, twelve minutes, we played pretty good, but we didn’t capitalize on some opportunities. . . . We were working hard. It’s going to be a long series. That was definitely the message throughout the room. We had a lot of opportunities. That’s a good goalie over there, and they came away with game one.”
That their goaltending is not infallible. Sure, neither is Dallas’s—seeing Tim Thomas behind the bench on a chair halfway into the tunnel as the backup netminder is in this arena is at least a little bit disconcerting—but Andersen is not the rock that will lead the Ducks deep if he plays like he did Wednesday. His second and third goals were each at least a little shaky. The third, granted, went off Seguin in front to get by him, but it was a soft shot from the far right hash marks that started the play. Not the type of shot that ought to turn into a goal.
The second, also. That puck was low and not all that hard along the ice. Hiller might come back, but if he does, he’s going to have to solve what the press is calling his “confidence problem” in one mighty hurry.
But Andersen is still the supremely confident type. When asked how he felt about getting the start, he said he had no nerves. None. He said after, “We let them back in when we had the lead, but it’s a good thing that we won, anyway. Even when you’re up 4-0, you’ve got to play the sixty minutes, that’s one thing I learned, and I wasn’t nervous. You can’t let nerves get to you. You’re screwed when you do that. Even with the lead, you have to focus as a goalie. You can’t let up. They score two goals, two quick goals, and it’s one thing you’ve got to do, keep your focus. It’s nice to get the nod, and cool, and that’s why you practice, so you can get to play. Nerves were nothing [as a factor]. You just prepare as usual.” In his locker stall sat the fire helmet that the team gives out to the player of the game, evidence that at least nineteen people in the building were happy with what he’d done on the night.
Another lesson is that the Ducks simply have a lot of bad habits. Two of them are opposite one another. The first is starting slowly, forcing themselves to come from behind. The obviously did not do that in game one.
The other is letting their foot off the gas and allowing the other team to get back in. That’s something that Columbus did on this same evening to ill effect. It’s not something that Anaheim is going to get away with in the playoffs like they did in the regular campaign, whether it’s Dallas or their next opponent who sticks it to them for trying.
The Ducks at least ended the game strong. They charged in, for instance, with about a minute and a half left, Perry taking a slapshot that Lehtonen, way out of his net, blocked with the blocker, and Getzlaf following in trying for the rebound. That brought their shots to 35, ahead of Dallas for one of the only times all game.
Shortly after that, with about a minute left, out went the Dallas goalie and on came the sixth player. The Stars kept the puck in the Anaheim end, but they didn’t put it in the Anaheim net, and the game ended with a 4-3 final score.
One bit of bad news—with 16.3 seconds to go, Getzlaf took a puck in the face off a slapshot from Seguin, covering the point. The Stars won the ensuing faceoff but didn’t get a shot, and the game ended at 35-35 in shots.
It was a closer finish than it ought to have been. Fans now wait until Friday to see whether the team can clean things up a little. Meanwhile, Dallas feels that they’ve got life. “It ended up being a tight game,” goalie Lehtonen said, “It was fun to be out there. I have to start better, and the team has to too, and then we’ll be good.”