The Dallas Stars’ first Stanley Cup playoff series in six years has amounted to a significant learning experience. Although coach Lindy Ruff’s 8th-seeded skaters have fallen into an early two-games-to-none hole against the Western Conference top-seeded Anaheim Ducks (54-20-8), 10 players making their post-season debuts are quickly learning what it takes to compete beginning in late-April.
“Anybody that watched the games, getting down 4-0 (in a 4-3 Game One loss on Wednesday, April 16), this team doesn’t quit,” said Coach Lindy Ruff, whose 40-31-11 team won two of three regular season meetings with Anaheim. “We almost got right back in that game. We had the lead in this (Game Two). It doesn’t feel like an 0-2 series. We definitely haven’t been dominated. In fact, (in Game Two) we dominated, we just didn’t win. We’ve got to clean up some of our mistakes and take advantage of some of those key opportunities.
“The feeling right now is we could be 1-1, we could be 2-0, but we’re 0-2,” Ruff said the day after the Stars dropped their 2nd straight to Anaheim, 3-2 on Friday, April 18. “We have to clean up a couple of mistakes, I thought our second game was a lot better than the first, but we didn’t take advantage of a couple of key opportunities and made a couple of big mistakes that turned the tide on us.”
The Stars glittered in the opening period of Game 2, taking game to their hosts and grabbing their first lead of the series when forward Alex Chiasson netted his first career playoff goal less than eight minutes into the game by one-timing a wrist shot from the slot on a power play feed from Jamie Benn.
“(The Stars) were skating and hitting,” said Ducks’ forward Perry, whose team led the NHL in scoring by averaging 3.21 goals per game. “They played well tonight. We weathered the storm (in the 1st period) and came away 1-1.”
Dallas, which was missing defenseman Brenden Dillon for the 2nd straight game with a lower body injury, turned the puck over in its defensive zone late in the opening period, leading to the Ducks’ game-tying red light. Another Stars’ turnover in the neutral zone late in the 2nd period enabled Anaheim to take the lead, 2-1. The Ducks extended their lead to 3-1 early in the 3rd period with a shorthanded goal after Dallas was unable to control the puck.
“Every guy is walking in alone, it’s the shooter and the goaltender,” Ruff said. “It wasn’t like (Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen, who made 16 saves) gave up squeakers or anything. We’re in this together, we made the mistakes together, (and) we’re going to create the opportunities together.”
Stars’ forward Ryan Garbutt scored his first playoff goal from the doorstep to make it 3-2 midway through the 3rd period, but Dallas could not get the equalizer against goalie Frederik Andersen on a late power play (they went 1-for-6 with the man advantage) with Lehtonen pulled for an extra attacker.
“At the end of the night, we handed them their opportunities and their goals,” Ruff said. “I thought we skated well, our effort was great, but we made a couple of mistakes that cost us dearly. We didn’t capitalize on some of their big mistakes, which was the difference. But I actually like where our team was at, the pressure they were putting on. There was a lot to like. We missed the net on a couple of big mistakes and you got to give them credit. We handed them a couple. They didn’t have a lot but what we handed them, they took advantage of.”
For now, Ruff and his skaters just want to take things one game at a time. “We’ve focused on improving a couple of areas in the game,” said Ruff, whose squad will host the Ducks at American Airlines Center in Dallas for Games Three on Monday, April 21 and Wednesday, April 23. “I thought we did. I thought our transition was better. I thought we got a lot of pucks to the goal line and put him under a lot of duress. We had the puck for the most part more than they did and forced them into a lot of situations we could have taken advantage of and didn’t. Part of becoming a good playoff team is to improve from your first game, and I saw that improvement.
Stars Drop Playoff Opener to Ducks
In the franchise’s first Stanley Cup playoff game since the Spring of 2008, Dallas dropped a 4-3 verdict to the host Ducks on Wednesday, April 16. The Stars fell behind 1-0 in the first two minutes of the game and were trailing 4-0 by midway through the 2nd period against a Ducks squad that went 31-5-6 when scoring first during the just-completed regular season. Anaheim, which notched multiple power play tallies in the same game for the first time since Jan. 15, seemed on the verge of a blowout victory when the Stars halved the lead in a 1:33 span late in the middle session.
Captain Benn’s rebound wrister and rookie Colton Sceviour’s slap shot gave each his 1st Stanley Cup Playoff goal to give the team a burst of momentum and energy entering the 3rd period. “(The comeback) gave us some life,” said coach Ruff. “The (opportunity by) Benn, even at the end of the period, if we would have had that one to make it 4-3, would have been a really important goal for us. But we got one in the third. I thought at times we had them on their heels and we gave them a good push.”
Forward Tyler Seguin, who won a Stanley Cup in 2010-11 and went to last year’s finals with the Bruins, closed the gap to 4-3 on a tip-in goal with just over six minutes left in regulation. But the Stars were unable to tie the game and send it into overtime
“The way we finished was how we wanted to play the full game,” said Seguin. “I definitely liked our attitude out there. I think we were working hard. It is going to be a long series. That was definitely the message throughout the room. Now we have to bounce back and get ready for the next game.”
“We had a tough start,” said Benn. “They came out hot in their building. They are really good in this rink. I thought we battled back pretty good but it just wasn’t enough. They are going to be hard-fought games. You have to play a full 60 and maybe even more. We are going to learn from this one, we’ll watch some video. They played a good game, they were ready to go.
Goalie Kari Lehtonen, who won eight of 11 decisions down the stretch to help the Stars reach the post-season, made 31 saves in a less than stellar effort. “I think we were controlling play first 12 minutes, I felt we were playing well, but they seemed to get the better scoring chances,” Lehtonen said. “Some days it goes like that. They’re a great team and when they get good opportunity they use it.”
Dallas Stars Player of the Week – Jamie Benn
The Stars team captain helped his team begin an attempted comeback from a 4-0 deficit in Game One of the Stars’ opening round Stanley Cup playoff series. He also set up Alex Chiasson for his first career playoff goal that gave Dallas a 1-0 lead over the Ducks in Game Despite Benn’s efforts and results, Dallas lost Games 1 and 2 by scores of 4-3 and 3-2, respectively.