You’ll have to excuse the Dallas Stars if they didn’t quite feel that unique post-season rush of adrenalin until Game 4 of their series with Western Conference #1 seed Anaheim. After all, the Stars’ franchise hasn’t played past the April 15 tax filing deadline since 2008.
But the young team that finished the regular season as a #8 seed feels as if it’s now battle- tested in the Stanley Cup playoff wars after rallying from a two-goal deficit to upend the visiting Ducks, 4-2 on Wednesday, April 23 to tie the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
“I really feel like we’re in a playoff series now,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said after the Stars overcame a two-goal deficit to win a Stanley Cup Playoff game for the first time since April 12, 2004 when it defeated Colorado, 4-3 in overtime. “The first couple of games didn’t feel like it, but now we feel like we have a playoff series.”
Coming off a 3-0 victory two nights earlier that enabled Dallas to claw its way back into the series, the Stars fell behind 2-0 in the first period to a Ducks squad lacking forwards Ryan Getzlaf (due to an upper body injury) and veteran Teemu Selanne (a healthy scratch in favor of more speed along the wing).
Ruff let the Stars know how he felt about trailing by two goals after the first 20 minutes. “He told us we were getting outworked and we had to play harder,” said Stars forward Ryan Garbutt after Dallas overcame a two-goal deficit in a playoff game to win in regulation for the first time since they defeated Edmonton 3-2 on April 25, 1999 (the year they went on to win the Stanley Cup). “He has a voice that carries and he made his point. That’s what makes him one of the best coaches in the league.”
“I just said I wasn’t happy,” said Ruff, whose squad played without defenseman Brenden Dillon for the fourth straight game and lost blueliner Patrik Nemeth to an injury in the opening period. “I thought we got outworked. I thought we weren’t playing smart enough and it was our turn to answer and that group in there answered the bell. It’s not often that we get outworked but I thought after that, the last forty (minutes) was as hard as the boys could go, they emptied the tank.”
The Stars wrested control of the game away from the Ducks and quickly halved the lead at 2-1 just :27 after intermission. Team captain Jamie Benn won a faceoff in the neutral zone, skated inside the blue line and launched a wrist shot that deflected off a nearby Anaheim player’s stick for his 3rd playoff marker. The shot’s change of direction seemed to confuse goalie Frederik Andersen, beating him over his right shoulder and igniting the boisterous sellout crowd at American Airlines Center.
“That goal was really important,” Ruff acknowledged. “To get us on the board that quickly and get the energy back in this building (is critical). knew if we could get one early in the second that would probably tip it our way because we’ve always had good push-back from adversity.”
Forward Vernon Fiddler tied the score six minutes later after taking a pass from Shawn Horcoff and lifting the puck from a bad angle from the side of the net between Andersen’s right shoulder and the near post for his first goal of this year’s post season to tie the score at 2-2. Anaheim appeared to be caught in a line change and failed to cover well in its defensive zone. Dallas continued to control play, outshooting the Ducks 16-3 in the period and 26-23 for the game.
“I’m very impressed (with the Stars’ resiliency),” said Benn, the first member of the Stars to record at least one point in each of his first four playoff games since 1980 when Minnesota North Star forwards Steve Payne and Bobby Smith notched points in their first five outings. “We are a confident group in here. We want to play the same way all the time, if we are up two goals or down two goals. We regrouped in the first and came out with a strong effort in the second and third.”
Dallas continued its strong play into the 3rd period. After a brief Anaheim probe in search of the go-ahead marker, Cody Eakin took a pass from Antoine Roussel and skated past Anaheim center Rickard Rakell — who fell to the ice after an ill-advised poke-check attempt – and into the offensive zone on a two-on-one. The red-haired pivot netted his first career playoff goal with a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle that beat Andersen over his left shoulder for a 3-2 lead with 13:38 left in regulation.
Just 1:22 later, Fiddler skated the puck toward the right wing boards in the offensive zone before backhanding a pass to defenseman Alex Goligoski in the slot. Goligoski wristed home his first Stars’ (and 3rd career) playoff goal to make it 4-2 and chase Andersen.
“After the second (Dallas) goal I certainly did (think Andersen was off his game),” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said of his starting goalie, who did not look good on all but Eakins goal. “I didn’t really notice it in the first period because I didn’t think they had a lot of opportunities. But after they scored their second goal, I told (back goalie Jonas Hiller) to get ready because I didn’t think he was that sharp, but then he settled down and I think right after that made a flurry of good saves, and I thought, OK, he is settling down. Then in the third period, when they got that goal, I thought it was time.”
The Stars shoed their maturity by finishing the game just as strong as they began their comeback in the middle period. “I think we’ve learned a lot in these four games (and) I think we’ve grown up a lot,” Horcoff said. “It’s hard to win any series, and maybe it’s hardest of all to win the first round. But we have a taste for it now, and I think that really makes a difference.”
Dallas appears primed for success as it enters what amounts to a best-of-three series beginning Friday in Anaheim before returning for Game Six on Sunday night in Dallas.
“It’s starting from scratch,” said Ruff. “We’ve got to go there and win a game. We’ve got to be better and I have to do a better job with the team. I thought in Game two we played, in my eyes, a real good game but we didn’t finish and we made some big mistakes. We eliminated some of those big mistakes here and it’s now just focusing on one game…no more. We’ve done it all year.”
“I think we feel good about our game,” said Goligoski. “They are a really good team over there and they are good in their building so we’re confident in our game and we will go in and try and get a better start than we did in the first game over there. But I thought in Game 2 we were pretty good, and it’s 2-2 now so we have to go get home ice.”
“Both teams have taken care of business at home, and we obviously feel comfortable in our building,” said Fiddler. “But Anaheim is a tough place to go in and play, and they obviously have some great players and leaders. We’re not worried about Anaheim. We want to worry about our game. I think when we worry about our own game, we are a really confident group. We know how to play. We’re not the most skilled team, but were a team that’s going to work, and we pride ourselves on that, and we don’t get out worked.”
Boudreau noted that Anaheim needs to do a better job on its forecheck to slow down the speedy Stars. “They are obviously quick,” he said. “They jump into the play very well. I think what we have to do is get our forecheck going and make them play 200 feet. And then we have to make sure we are not getting all three guys caught, because once you get three guys caught, and that happened about four or five times after the first period, then they’re coming four on two or three on two because they’re ready to go offensively right away. It’s things that I thought we controlled very well in the first period but we just didn’t do it for 60 minutes.”
Dallas Stars Player of the Game – Vernon Fiddler
The veteran center recorded the first multi-point playoff performance of his career with a goal and an assist to help Dallas erase a 2-0 deficit and upend Anaheim, 4-2, tying the best-of-seven opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series at 2-2. Fiddler’s 1st goal of this year’s playoffs and his 3rd career marker tied the score at 2-2 in the 2nd period, and he set up defenseman Alex Goligoski for a goal that made it 4-2.