Prior to the opening puck drop of Anaheim vs. Dallas game one, too many NHL fans underestimated the Dallas Stars. The team clearly has some unappreciated talent, as well as strong leadership and fantastic support from their fans. The Stars left their hearts on the ice every night, and truly gave Anaheim a tougher battle than most eight seeds are expected to pose.
Now is the time that our team at Anaheim Calling do a sort of blogger's handshake, a virtual and verbal tip of the hat to the standouts of the Dallas Stars organization who truly made this first round into an all-out war.
The Big Name Stars: Whenever someone mentions the Dallas Stars, whose names jump into your mind? Jamie Benn? Tyler Seguin? Kari Lehtonen? When these top-level players are called upon for the playoffs sometimes they fall short, but this Dallas lineup found some impressive ways to step up. Jamie Benn lead the team, and the league, in playoff goals with four, and Seguin managed to find the net when the Stars needed that spark of hope reignited. Lehtonen managed to keep his team in the game on most nights, and even managed a shutout back in game three in front of their friendly fans. When Anaheim managed to keep these players off the score sheet, they still managed to cause some ripples in Anaheim's play style and get under the Anaheim Ducks' skin. Hats off to these top-notch players.
The Overshadowed Talent: Playoff season sometimes sees the emergence of a young or relatively unacknowledged player who just finds a strong rhythm and produces stellar plays. For Dallas names like Colton Sceviour, Shawn Horcoff, and Antoine Roussel were unexpected high points on their roster. Despite only playing 26 regular season games, Sceviour came out with a bang and had a multi-point night back in game one, ending the postseason with three points and a +2 rating. Shawn Horcoff, who had just 20 points in the regular season, averaged one point per game in the playoffs, ending with one goal and five assists, two of which game in Dallas's game four comeback win. Roussel understands that his strength is in his aggression, and that was not in short supply in this series. Roussel, who ranked third in the NHL in regular season penalty minutes, kept that trend going with 27 penalty minutes in round one, managing to take off players such as Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry with coincidental penalties. Sometimes when players fly under the radar, their talents can end up hurting just as bad as the highlighted players, especially when you aren't expecting them to contribute as much as they can.
The Game Style, Pace, and Conditioning: When two teams meet that have very different priorities in play style, it's always interesting to see how the games pan out. Anaheim clearly prefers a game heavily based in cycling the puck along the boards, while the Stars fought to gain the center of the ice and stay at favorable angles to the net. Dallas and Anaheim had a tug-of-war struggle to play their own style, and it made for an incredibly entertaining, albeit sometimes frustrating, series. Furthermore, the Stars clearly favor a fast-paced hockey game, which often led to them catching their opponents on their heels. Dallas is an absurdly quick team, as seen in several plays where a Star player would flat-out speed by an Anaheim skater. The conditioning on Lindy Ruff's squad was something that caught me (and on some instances, the Ducks as well) off guard. Kudos to the stellar conditioning and control that the entire Dallas team brought to the ice.
The Fans: This one should be anything but a surprise. The fanbase in Dallas clearly contributed heavily to the momentum, pace, and intensity of the games played in their home arena. Netminder Kari Lehtonen managed an outstanding performance resulting in a shutout the first night he played in front of the Stars home crowd. When refs decided to not penalize certain hits, the crowd's reaction was so powerful that the refs could be coaxed into whistling a softer penalty shortly thereafter. The power of a hyped up crowd was seen so perfectly in game six when Anaheim, after falling behind early, looked completely deflated, despite there being plenty of time left to tie in up or take a lead. Dallas hasn't been a friendly building for Anaheim to play in all season, and the Ducks did manage that final game six victory there, however it was an absolute uphill battle getting there. When playing in Dallas, the fans often would begin taunting chants calling out one Anaheim player at a time (i.e. "Perry Sucks"), and in many scenarios it could have worked in their favor. Maybe the chants are partially to blame for the lackluster performance of goalie Frederik Andersen in game six. Regardless of what the chanting did in working against the opponent, it clearly lit an even stronger fire under the Dallas Star players. For their contribution to their team's energy, dedication, and tenacity, I tip my hat to the Dallas fans.
Round one was a hard-fought battle, and the playoffs are just beginning. The Dallas Stars clearly were not a typical eighth-seeded team, which only made the wins that much sweeter. Anaheim will now face off against one of their interstate rival teams, and the fight is only going to get more difficult from here on.
Thank you to the Dallas Stars for an exhilarating and dramatic series complete with the aggression, speed, and talent that we expect from hockey playoffs.
Let's Go Ducks!