Game one between the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks had a little bit of everything from their regular season.
The Stars had some stretches that were great, and some... inconsistencies, let's say, that were significantly less so. There was offense from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. There was power play futility. Penalties from Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt. Questions on the defense. Great saves from Kari Lehtonen. And as usual, Dallas out-possessed a team and lost a close one.
They never stopped fighting. They showed a ton of character in nearly overcoming overwhelming odds. But they came up just a little short.
The objective of the trip is still right in front of them, however - take one in Anaheim and get home. Lindy Ruff saw what happened Wednesday and is not daunted or deterred. He wants the Stars to continue to try to play their game.
"We are a speed and transition team and we need the puck," Ruff told media Thursday. "I thought sometimes we gave it up too soon."
Anaheim clearly planned to stop that transition game, and had great success. Round one of the chess match goes to Bruce Boudreau, whose team kept Dallas to the outside of the rink, forcing them to chip it off the boards and do something they generally don't- Chase.
As Ruff says, they need the puck, and they couldn't hold onto it, thanks in large part to a high percentage of failed breakouts/zone exits. The Ducks forecheckers pressured Dallas and the results were turnovers and irrevocable errors that amounted to a 4-0 lead.
So it would be nice if there were better news to deliver on sorting things out on the Dallas blue line, but it doesn't sound likely that Brenden Dillon, who did not skate again today, will make his return in game two.
"We miss the quality ice time he takes," Ruff told Mike Heika of Dillon yesterday. "We're taking him out and putting in a guy who has six or seven games in the league. For the most part we've got a lot of guys who have very little experience or none, and in (Dillon's) case he's at least got a season and a half, which is better than six or seven games."
Considering Brenden Dillon has not so much as put on a pair of skates since Friday night, a full week earlier, it seems doubtful he'll play. If it were a minor thing he'd have already been gutting it out. It's the playoffs, after all, and he's a warrior.
So that unbalances the defense, forces Patrik Nemeth into a bigger role, forces Jordie Benn to his off-hand - all that good stuff, including introducing Aaron Rome into things, and he could only manage to get out there for 8:51. Only about 2.5 minutes of that was in the third period.
With that evidence in mind it's only fair to ask: Could Kevin Connauton make his playoff debut tonight? The administration of Ruff and Nill have not been quick to react (or overreact) this season. Whether or not that patience continues is a matter of some intrigue, given what the Stars needed was for defensemen to make better plays with their feet first, and then the puck.
Colton Sceviour seems fine after his awkward collision with the boards Wednesday night. There should be no other changes in the lineup, but how the lines are configured are anyone's guess. Ruff mixed it up in an attempt to get something going Wednesday.
Kari Lehtonen's tough start was a function of the team in front of him for the most part - he'll get the start tonight looking to improve, or work more and better miracles to keep these guys in it.
While Dallas can't seem to get their key injured player back it appears Anaheim dodged a huge bullet with theirs.
Matt Beleskey (1 goal, 1 assist Wednesday) missed practice with an unspecified lower-body injury, but could play tonight. It's wait and see there, as well.
Ever coy, Boudreau wouldn't officially name Frederik Andersen as his starter for game two but... It's almost surely Andersen again.
Ken Hitchcock used to put a lot of stock in game two during his time here. Seven-game series are about adjustments. The Ducks came out with a better game plan Wednesday - one designed specifically to stop what Dallas wants to do. Will the Stars change much, or will they bank on a closer game allowing them greater opportunity? A function of a quick 3-0 lead, even as the Stars out-attempted them, was the luxury of then focusing on shutting the other team down.
The Stars need a lead, or at least a tied game well into the second. That can take Anaheim away from their game plan. That can test their patience.
A power play goal that doesn't require a two-man advantage would be a plus as well.
See you tonight at 9:00pm. Take a nap.