Stars Down Blues, Clinch Final Playoff Berth

There will be hockey in Dallas after most people file their tax returns by the April 15 deadline this year.

Following a long and sometimes painful five-year absence from the post-season, the Dallas Star exorcised the franchise’s demons Friday night by clinching their first Stanley Cup playoff berth since the 2007-08 campaign with a resounding 3-0 victory over the visiting St. Louis Blues before an appreciative sellout crowd at American Airlines Center. The throng gave the team a standing ovation at game’s end, after which team members waved their sticks in appreciation, and team captain Jamie Benn personally thanked the fans for their support. The post-game celebration featured forward Rich Peverley, sidelined for the rest of the season after enduring a heard-related incident on March 10, celebrating in street clothes with his teammates at the Stars’ bench.

“That (post-game celebration with the fans) was great, maybe a little bit of a sigh of relief,” said Tyler Seguin, the team’s leading scorer. “We’ve been working for this all season since training camp and all our fans have stuck with us over the last few years so it’s nice to make the playoffs for them and for ourselves.”

The white and green-clad Stars (40-30-11 for 91 points) wrapped up an opportunity to play for Lord Stanley of Preston’s chalice because they hold the first tie breaker over 9th place Phoenix (36-29-15 for 87 points), a 36-30 advantage in regulation and overtime wins (ROW). Phoenix, which recently suffered through a five-game winless streak, visits San Jose Saturday before hosting Dallas Sunday to finish the regular season.

“I am so damn happy,” said coach Lindy Ruff, who is not usually given to such outbursts. “Our team played awesome.  I was worried that we were a little tight to start the game but, man, did we start to skate and did we start to compete.  I’ve got to give my club credit for putting up the battle they did.  When we had the chance to put them down, we put them down and we took advantage of a team that had seven or eight of their players out of the lineup.”

Dallas, which won for the fifth time in its last six home games, also defeated marquee goalie Ryan Miller, whom the Blues acquired from Buffalo prior to the trade deadline as a key piece for their Stanley Cup push, for the 3rd straight time in a St. Louis uniform. The Stars finished their five-game season series against the Central Division’s Blues by capturing seven of a possible 10 points, winning twice (once in overtime) and losing once in St. Louis to go with an overtime loss at the American Airlines Center.

“Five years for sure (is a long time),” said Benn. “It feels good to get this win. It means a lot, every kid dreams of playing in the playoffs and trying to win the Stanley Cup. I believe we have a great group this year that can do some damage. We earned it tonight and we’ll finish that game in Phoenix and move on to Game One (of the playoffs).

“I thought our team played great tonight and we definitely earned this,” added Benn. “We stayed loose before the game. We just wanted to go out there and work hard and have fun. We believed in each other all year and we just played a great game tonight.”

Defenseman Trevor Daley broke a scoreless tie just over eight minutes into the 2nd period with his career-best 9th goal of the season and 2nd in two games. Daley tallied on a breakaway, pulling the puck to his backhand and clipping it over Miller’s glove to give Dallas a 1-0 lead. The play was created by captain Jamie Benn, who won a brief scrum at center ice and head-manned a short pass into open ice where Daley was able to outrace the St. Louis defense.

Daley helped create the Stars’ second goal on a power play, keeping the puck in the St. Louis zone and feeding Benn at the side of the Blues’ net during a power play with eight minutes left in the 2nd period. Benn’s  goalmouth feed was one-timed into an empty net by Tyler Seguin for his team- and career-high 37th goal of the season and a 2-0 Dallas lead.

“On the power play goal, the pass itself was hard enough to catch but to shoot it from that angle and to hit that part of the net was an incredible shot by Tyler and a great set-up by (Benn),” said Ruff. “It was a big goal for us”

Dallas outshot St. Louis, 21-6 in the 2nd stanza and 30-13 for the final 40 minutes (40-22 for the game) while taking complete control of the match. The Blues hardly resembled a team battling for the Central Division and Western Conference championships, losing for the 5th straight game and failing to match Dallas’s energy or ability to control territorial play. They were playing without star forward T.J. Oshie, who sustained a head injury after he was hit by Minnesota forward Mike Rupp on Thursday night’s 4-2 Wild victory. Rupp received a match penalty and subsequently suspended for four games by the NHL.

Dallas kept pressuring St. Louis into the 3rd period as forward Ryan Garbutt scored his 17th goal to make it 3-0 early in the session. Garbutt deflected home a point shot by defenseman Alex Goligoski that was set up by a pass from veteran forward Vernon Fiddler, who has contributed eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in his last 10 games.

“On the third one for (Garbutt) to get his stick on it, well the bench was elated because it provided us breathing room,” Ruff said. “We hadn’t had a lot of room to breathe.  We had one go off the stanchion where (goalie Kari Lehtonen) had to make an incredible save and those are the breaks that can do you in when you don’t have much breathing room.

“I thought it was a playoff-like atmosphere,” Ruff added. “You feed off that at times.  The energy when that third goal went in was like everyone else in the building took a breath and said breathing room…order me another beer.  It’s just a warm up for the playoffs.  Our fans can knock the lid off this place if we give them the chance.”

Lehtonen made 22 saves to notch his career-high 5th shutout and improve his record to 33-20-10. He preserved a shutout with a goalmouth save against Blues rookie forward Ty Rattie with 11 minutes remaining. The 33 wins are one less than his career high achieved with Atlanta (now Winnipeg) in 2006-07 and in Dallas during the 2010-11 season.

Dallas defenseman Brenden Dillon did not return for the 3rd period after suffering an upper-body injury.

“I’ll confidently sit here and say if we can play like that I think we can play with anybody in the league,” said Seguin, who was voted by his teammates as the club’s nominee for the National Hockey League’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy given annually to the NHL player ‘who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.’ “We worked hard and faced adversity this year like any team, but there hasn’t been too many games where we walked away and said we weren’t the hardest working team out there. I think we earned every win this year we’ve gotten.”

Dallas Stars Player of the Game –  Trevor Daley

The talented defenseman broke a scoreless tie with his career-high 9th goal of the season, then set up an insurance goal by keeping the puck in the St. Louis zone during a power play that resulted in a goal by teammate Tyler Seguin. The victory over the Blues helped Dallas clinch its first Stanley Cup playoff berth since the 2007-2008 campaign.

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