Dallas is a bit of a scrappy team. They hack at the other side’s goalie. They aren’t afraid to get in his face, even knock him down. That was evident from early on in the Saturday afternoon tilt of the Stars and Kings.
It started with a high stick, delivered by Patrick Sharp to the face of Vinny Lecavalier along the boards. The latter went to the net looking for a puck anyway, then turned to the ref and complained. He was playing with Dwight King and Trevor Lewis. It was not to be the last time they tussled with the other side.
Though the Kings controlled the first two minutes of the game, they launched no shots. Dallas then took over, steaming in on Jonathan Quick and, as alluded to above, knocking him right over at one point. It was on a goal, which was called off. Ruff challenged it, and lost. The scene was like this: shot from the point, Antoine Roussel cruising past the crease. Kings Dman seemed to push him over Quick, right at the moment the puck hit Quick up high and then bounded over him into the net. He fell backwards, and the ref said no. The replay changed nothing.
After the game, Ruff commented on the moment. “It was tough. I thought it was close enough that the puck to me looked like it bounced off of Quick and went in off Roussel, and he was outside of the crease. I thought it was worthy of a shot of a challenge, and um, we didn’t win, but he did the right thing on the play. I wanted to send a message that we wanted to get rewarded for going to the net. I wanted our guys going to the net. And at the end, I knew I probably wasn’t going to win the challenge. Not many are getting overturned now unless it’s really blatant, but I liked what he did. I liked where he went. I thought there was a shot at it. Take the shot at it and try to reward him for really good play.”
Next shift, Sutter put out the line of Clifford, Andreoff, and Versteeg. Clifford lined up opposite Roussel and challenged him. Nothing. He dogged him all over the ice all shift. Nothing. He stayed after him next to the boards as the faceoff was called. Nothing. He stayed out when Dallas changed, but then the line was called back in right before puck drop.
After the game, IH had the chance to talk to Roussel, and he was clear in his opinion of the play on the ice: “I don’t know why that [this] game started like that. I was gonna cruise around, and they started to try to bully us, and I don’t think that anyone can bully us. We just stand up for ourself, and we just keep our game plan the same. We don’t try to change anything, to beat them up or wake them up. Guys like Lucic like to fight, like to be involved, and it’s important just to ignore him.” He never engaged Lucic, but Roussel was all over the ice, in on every play and scrum, it seemed.
His coach complimented him, saying he was outstanding. “He was absolutely fabulous. His determination to get pucks back, his work ethic.”
Dallas was at it again later, with Mattias Janmark putting a little shot on Quick’s hand after the goalie trapped the puck next to his pads on a second juggle. Trevor Lewis followed Janmark around the net and pushed him. Lewis. You know there’s widespread trouble when he’s involved.
The Kings got some back when they scored on a Pearson shot that probably hit a stick (Dallas #28, Stephen Johns) and launched over the shoulder of Kari Lehtonen.
On the next play, Toffoli went to the net and poked at the puck, causing a scrum behind the net.
After the next whistle, another scrum. Then Dallas scored and there was an offside challenge, which failed. All of this added up to a 51-minute first period. The goal came with just 2.9 seconds left, and the period concluded 1-1.
The roughhousing didn’t stop though. The second period saw #21 Roussel again in the mess, in the crease and being pushed over by McNabb of the Kings at the whistle. The crowd carried on behind the net, but no fighting ensued.
The score was still 1-1, and, just for the record, Dallas dominated in shots at this point by 23-9 after having taken the first period at 18-8.
If the game was rough, two nasty teams chipping away at each other’s tempers. The hockey itself was good, with Dallas’s power play especially impressive. They control the puck and launch shots from everywhere. Statistically, they are fourth in the league, with 54 goals on the PP. The Kings aren’t too far behind, at eighth and 47 goals. But the penalty killing is also outstanding on both sides, with the Stars 13th and the Kings 15th. Perhaps that’s why the Dallas team didn’t score despite launching five shots on their early extra-man chance with Clifford in the box. Wait, no. That was Jonathan Quick’s magic.
Roussel kept up his pestering as P2 wore on, ending up in the crease yet again and being knocked down and punched by Andreoff. They each got two for roughing and continued the discussion in the penalty boxes.
The second goal for LA came when Lehtonen tried to shoot a puck directly out as it rolled in on him. Carter knocked it down, Toffoli picked it up and shot it, or shot-passed it, and Carter got a stick on it, was trying a deke, and saw it roll off his blade and into the net.
The exciting moments kept coming, though the early scrappiness faded as period two went on. The Stars were called for too many men. Doughty was nailed for a high stick 16 seconds later—weak call. Carter got a mini-breakaway and shot the puck wide with pressure from behind. Then the best save of the afternoon happened.
Ales Hemsky got a rebound at the left side of the LA net. He launched an eight-inch-high wrister at the open side from practically on the goal line and just six feet from the crease. Quick did the splits and launched his body to his right, sticking out the stick and getting that and his right leg pad on the puck.
The next play, there was a Dallas shot, a save, and rebound. Sharp grabbed the puck and flung it back at the net, only to see it hit the post down low. The period thus ended 2-1 for the Kings, but the shots were way lopsided. They were at 29 Dallas, 16 Los Angeles.
And period three showed the visitors’ determination. They scored two goals to win 3-2, including one where Roussel lost his helmet in the LA end, went up the ice back checking, got the puck back, and then chased it to the Kings’ end. An LA player touched it, but Eaves scored. Unassisted on paper, it was Roussel’s goal really. Ruff said, “It was good, hard compete. Not too often you see a guy going up the ice with no helmet. Reminded me of the 70s.”
Watching this Dallas team win, pundits might be forgiven for saying that they will flame out in the playoffs. The idea is that Dallas ain’t quite ready for “big boy hockey.” What’s that? The kind the Kings play—discipline tempering the risk-taking. The sporty, open style of Dallas works, but not when the other team had good defense or their goalie is on point. And that’s an exact description of the LA team, and most of the rest that Dallas will face in the playoffs.
But it’s not like they don’t realize that. Ruff said afterwards, “You can go look at our last six or seven games. They’ve all been similar. We understand and our team understands that at certain times of games you’ve got to tone it down a bit, and people are coming through.”
IH asked Roussel if there’s a special thing called “playoff hockey,” and he said, “That was like tonight.” So there’s your verdict—they know, like Ruff said, what they’ll face come post-season.
Roussel once more: “That was great preparation for us. I’m sure we’re going to have to deal with that kind of emotion during the playoffs, and it’s great preparation. I’m glad everybody answered the bell. It’s positive for our club.” About the possible road of playing the Kings in the playoffs, he said, “They’re a good team. They have a lot of good players, physical players who love to get feisty, and some guys who love to get dirty. Sometimes [over the] limit from legal, and we’re going to have to deal with it. When we come to the bridge, we’re going to cross it, and we’ll talk about it then.”
The Ducks are waiting for the Stars, ready to take two points and go back into the lead in the Pacific. They play Sunday, early evening.
About getting his 700th win, Ruff said, “It means I’ve been around a long time. I’m looking forward to the next 700.”