It's funny to think that despite clinching the number one Seed in the Western Conference and avoiding the dreaded match-up against the Los Angeles Kings, the one other match-up that the Anaheim Ducks dreaded was against the Dallas Stars. Flying under the radar most of the season, the team in green gave the immensely competitive and dominant Pacific Division the fits, going 14-3-4 against the Pacific Division, and outscoring them 70-43. If analysts were to pick one first round upset, most would have chosen the Stars over the Ducks. So much for the underdog eh?
What was supposed to be a number one seed match-up against a wild card team, ended up really being a fair fight. I personally had the responsibility to recapping all three games in Dallas (Game 3, 4 and 6). And let me tell you, the Stars were often found on top of the game's "Iceholes" list due to their fantastic duo, blurring speed, emerging youth, and their knack of pushing all the right/wrong buttons.
So I want to take this post to not only recognize the Dallas Stars for some fantastic hockey, but more so for exposing the Ducks for faults they do have. Not only does this help the Ducks improve (hopefully in the postseason push), but it also helps the Stars as well moving forward as a competitive NHL team.
Coming into this series, it was largely a series pitted between the star forwards of each team--the Stars' Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, and the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Despite so-called depth scoring from each team, both the Stars and the Ducks heavily rely on the performance of these pairs of forwards to lead the way. For both teams, shutting down these star players would remain the number one priority. `
Jamie Benn was undoubtedly the series' MVP and the number one dagger in the Ducks' side. Benn at his best was nearly unstoppable. His speed, skill, and grit on the ice often ended up on the board. And while the Ducks managed to contain the fancy skills of Seguin (largely thanks to Cam Fowler), they had no answer for Benn. Seguin baited the Ducks blue line with his relentless speed and pushes, leaving his line-mate Benn open for offensive attack. If not those two, then rookie Valeri Nichushkin would step up. Or someone else. While the Dallas roster is not yet deep with NHL experience, they have a lot to look forward to in the coming seasons. (Do us a favor and give the Chicago and St. Louis hell.)
With Getzlaf-Perry on the other side, the Stars helped expose how much Getzlaf's presence on the ice impacts their game. Game 4 truly exposed the massive hole in the line-up without the Ducks captain, and the Stars well took advantage of his absence. The power play was a larger mess than usual and watching the penalty kill was as painful as getting a tooth pulled out. Getzlaf and Perry are a 2-for-1 deal, as Perry was rendered harmless without Getzlaf on his top line. Everyone knows that Getzlaf is pivotal to this Anaheim club--but playing against a speedy team like the Stars is nearly impossible without his anchor presence.
From the puck drop of Game 1, it was clear that both of the teams did not like one another. Hard hits, finger-pointing, questionable antics, and "Refs you suck" crowd chants were all delivered both ways. But in Game 3 in Dallas, the Stars hit the jackpot by figuring out exactly how to push the Ducks' wrong buttons. As a result, the entire NHL knows just how to get under Perry and Getzlaf's skins and how to get into the Ducks' heads. The Stars' grit and grind frustrated the Ducks and wreaked havoc on both ends of the ice. Antoine Roussel, Trevor Daley, and newly coined Ducks killer Ryan Garbutt were extremely successful in bugging the crap out of the Ducks and baiting them into taking penalties.
Kudos to the Stars for knowing how to play that pesky pest card. It took the Ducks two games (one being a brutal loss) to figure out a way to counteract this game plan and channel the anger in a more efficient manner. And hopefully they can take what they learned to continue on in the postseason. But one thing is for sure, the Stars can take this and fully integrate it in their style of play to frustrate their future opponents.
What more can I say besides the fact that it will be a b**** to play the Stars next season.
A couple of things to mention regarding goaltending in this series. The Stars brought the Ducks' goaltending down to earth. They not only chased out Frederik Andersen TWICE, but doing so finally elicited an uncommon emotional response from the usual cool-as-a-cucumber Great Dane. At the same time, in doing so, the Ducks welcomed back the long-forgotten Jonas Hiller back in net with open arms.
Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen may not be considered one of NHL's elite, but boy can he present a challenge. After this year's performance, the Stars can breathe a little easier knowing that he can now say he has some playoff wins under his belt. He single-handedly stole Game 3 from the Ducks, who were clearly outpossessing and outplaying the Stars in Dallas. Thanks to his game-stealing goaltending, the Ducks were challenged to stop their lazy play away from the net and instead, get into the dirty areas and crowd around the net. Not to mention, finally grasping the idea of a successful top shelf shot. Lehtonen served as a reminder to the Ducks that puck possession simply was not enough. When coming across a hot goaltender, it was all about the finish....And speaking of finishes....
Skill, Heart, and a little bit of Puck Luck...
The last few minutes of a the third period and overtime was filled with heartbreak and triumph.
Both teams learned a lot from those few minutes. The Ducks learned that nothing is over until the last second ticks off the clock. The Stars learned that nothing is over until the last second ticks off the clock. In the wise words of UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, "It's not so important who starts the game but who finishes it."
It's strange to be thanking an opponent for making the Ducks look bad....Disregarding win or loss, both teams can learn and benefit from this series. So cheers to the Dallas Stars--thank you for the nail-biting, hair-pulling, stress-inducing Round 1. Thanks to this rough series against the Stars, the Ducks can take back their flaws and attempt to get better in the next round. We [don't] look forward to seeing how the Stars take back what they did right and build upon those things in the next season.
If we are all honest here in the AC community, the Dallas Stars are one of the most exciting teams to watch thanks to the dynamic duo of Seguin-Benn, the downright-nasty-and-grinding play of the likes of Daley, Roussel and Garbutt, and just the overall speed of the younger guys. Hold your heads high--and be proud that your team brought it to the Anaheim Ducks.
It was a hell of a first round. We look forward to hating the Dallas Stars all over again in the next season.