In preparation for tonight's opening salvo in the Ducks vs Stars quarterfinal playoff series, Anaheim Calling sought an honest, unfiltered opinion from a Stars perspective. Defending Big D Managing Editor Brad Gardner provides that opinion - with a dash of humor. Read below to see why Dallas' second line is so difficult to play against, and why Brad is excited to see Kari Lehtonen return to the playoffs.
Q. Shawn Horcoff had a disappointing season (7 goals and 13 assists in 77 games), but is also a veteran who brings significant playoff experience to the Stars roster (he went to the Stanley Cup Final as member of the Edmonton Oilers in 2006). How will he fit into the postseason lineup, and do you think he will be a factor in the quarterfinal?
A. You start off with a question about Shawn Horcoff? What's your game, Anaheim? I feel something sneaky going on already. Seriously, though- Horcoff has not panned out like Jim Nill had hoped, obviously, and yet they've been conspicuously poor when he's been out of the lineup due to injury. He's a significant presence in the locker room and a good penalty killer, but is seldom noticeable outside of those areas. He'll continue to be a special teams contributor and an otherwise fourth line player. His energy is a plus when Ruff is able to roll four lines, like he likes to do, and the experience might be of great use to a group that has very little on the whole.
Bottom line on him, though, is that if he's contributing, it's likely to be in ways you don't readily notice.
Q. Stars fan favorite and longtime defensive stalwart Stephane Robidas is returning to the postseason - in a Ducks uniform. Will it be emotional for the Stars and their fans to see him on the ice?
A. There are a few emotions that come to mind. One such is annoyance. Brenden Dillon appears unready to start the series thanks to a foot injury sustained in the qualifier against St. Louis last week. Rookie Patrik Nemeth has been contributing, though sparingly, and the Stars don't appear to trust Aaron Rome for much of anything. They could use Robidas. He was made for this time of year. Trading him may have been a favor to him, but now it feels like a mistake.
That having been said, there's no better dude in the game. He's a warrior. He's a sweetheart. He'll take a bullet for you. He'll never stop. We love him, and to see him playing after that horrific incident earlier in the season will be nice. Even if it is for you despicable people.
Q. A lot of attention has been given to the Stars' 'dynamic duo" of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. However, Stars coach Lindy Ruff tends to deploy his second line - Antoine Roussel, Cody Eakin, and Ryan Garbutt - against the opposition's top line. Why is the Stars' second line so effective at shutting down the opposition, and what should Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf expect to see from these three?
A. My research indicates that Boudreau might try to keep them away from Roussel and Garbutt while at home, so you're probably safe there for a few games, but you're right, in Dallas that will be the case. They are quite simply just miserable to play against. They piss people off, if I may be so blunt.
They are annoying. They draw as many penalties as they take. They have a way of getting under people's skin and they do it in a hurry. When they walk the line it's pretty effective.
Oh, and they're fast. Very, very fast, and that doesn't sit well with people after a while either. It's just being hard to play against in as many ways as they can think of that keeps them in that role. One thing the don't do all that well, though, is score, and that's where Dallas' downfall comes. Lack of secondary scoring in year one of Nill and Ruff's rebuild.
Q. Kari Lehtonen dominated the Pacific Division this season, going 11-0-3 with a 1.48 GAA and a .950 save percentage. However, he struggled in his only postseason appearance 7 years ago (as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers). Are you concerned about Lehtonen's playoff readiness? [Ed. Note: He also didn't play the Ducks... -CK]
A. My gut response to that question is an emphatic "No", but I have no evidence to support that claim. As most netminders, he's only as good as the team in front of him, and you don't have to look at Dallas' line combinations very long to start questioning their blue line. He's not had any legit playoff experience, it's true, and until this year he wilted a little down the stretch in March more often than not.
That being said, he was excellent in several outings for Finland in Sochi this winter, and that's real pressure there. He's overcome the critics where his health is concerned. Now it's time to take the next step and show he should be thought of as a premier goaltender in this league. Can he do it with a tired Stars bunch in front of him? I really don't know, but we're excited to finally watch him try.
Q. This will be the Stars' first postseason appearance since 2008. And based on the seeding, the Stars are entering this quarterfinal as the underdog. However, multiple sources - including Sports Illustrated and USA Today - have anticipated that the Stars will win the series in 6 games. Do you agree with this prediction? And if so, what is the 'X Factor' that will propel the Stars past the Ducks?
A. The national media likes to poke the bear, and for some reason they've chosen the Ducks as the bear of the first round. Hmmm. That doesn't make a lot of sense. They're trying to make the Stars out as some kind of wolf in sheep's clothing, or as a fox in the Pacific Division's hen house... look, there are a lot of crafty animals involved here.
Seriously though- I personally don't agree with it. This team has no playoff experience. They were noticeably tired down the stretch. They had to give it all to get here after dropping nine of ten to start January. More than that, they have a duo every bit as good as Getzlaf and Perry in Benn and Seguin, never doubt it, but they have no depth.
When Boudreau focuses on stopping them night in and night out, as they've not faced before, what's left behind it? The Stars will put up a good fight, but it's doubtful it will be enough against a tested #1 seed like Anaheim, if we're being completely honest. #sandbagging #cheers
Thanks again, Brad! Make sure to check out Defending Big D for more Stars content throughout the series. And be nice when you visit.