What a night in the Big D.
The Dallas Stars just took this series and turned it upside down with a resounding 3-0 victory that continued the trend of the team that was grossly outshot throughout the game coming away with the victory. The difference this time, of course, is that the Stars were able to hold off the Ducks' assault and while the shot totals were certainly slanted Kari Lehtonen was strong in net and held on for a shutout and his first career postseason victory.
The atmosphere, the game itself, the amazing crowd and the fans and the emotion that is obviously building between these two teams has created a postseason dynamic that reminds us all why we love hockey so much and why the playoffs are so incredible at injecting an incredible amount of energy into a fanbase just ready to explode.
Onto some thoughts and observations from a huge 3-0 win as we prepare for an even bigger game on Wednesday:
This is going to be covered more extensively and probably much more accurately and in depth by Jake with the morning's By The Numbers report but the Stars were grossly outshot in the game and sat at just over 40% in Fenwick and only had a 42.7 Corsi For percentage as well -- yet for most of the game it seemed like the Stars were the ones that possessed the best chances and really limited those shots against in a much more manageable fashion that the first two games.
A lot of that was score effects, although the Ducks had a run when the game was tied 0-0 and then 1-0 where they absolutely dominated shot attempts and possession for nearly a full 20 minutes. Where the big discrepancy lies, however, is how the Ducks were handed power play after power play and yet failed to cash in -- remember, Anaheim's play with the man advantage wasn't much better than that of the Stars this season and it certainly showed tonight.
If you just look at even strength play, the Stars and Ducks played a much more even game overall with Dallas recovering very nicely from a long round of possession by Anaheim with a gigantic goal by Jamie Benn late in the first period. It's safe to say that goal, the all important first goal, turned the tide of the game.
Credit goes to the Stars for forcing the Ducks to go 0-for-6 on the power play and some tenacious play up and down the ice, but most importantly the Stars were able to seriously limit second chances and point-blank chances like they had surrendered in the first two games. Lehtonen only had to face perhaps two straight on one-on-one chances and it showed up in the success the Stars had defensively and ultimately on the scoreboard.
But most of all, credit goes to Kari Lehtonen who fully recovered from his poor play in Game 2 to walk away with a statement win in front of an incredible home crowd.
Speaking of that American Airlines Center crowd, I'm going to be interested to see just how loud it was on the television broadcast -- because it sounded like an absolute freight train in person. Not only was it the loudest I've ever heard it at the AAC, and I'll be interested to hear from people that were at this game and at the 2008 playoff games, but this crowd was downright mean and extraordinarily hostile at times in how they attacked the Ducks.
It was wonderful.
This was the sort of game and the sort of atmosphere that wins over a fanbase and creates new fans, because if you were at the game on Monday night you'll do everything you can to go back and experience it again. The Stars suffered through a bit of a slow start in the first period but not because of the crowd -- the fans rose to their feet with every rush up the ice and every hit along the boards.
"I thought the atmosphere was tremendous," said coach Lindy Ruff. "Got on the bench, just took a look around and it put a big smile on my face. The energy, the towels, everything...you only get so many opportunities to do this and take it in. It's my first playoff game here in Dallas, and you can tell they've been waiting for a playoff game and they got a playoff game they liked and they had something to cheer about. We wanted a little boost from our fans and as much as Anaheim got a little boost from theirs, we got a boost from ours. It was good to see."
The players all noticeably lit up after the game when talking about the home atmosphere this season and especially in this game, with Jamie Benn reiterating his feeling that these are the "most loyal fans in the NHL" and you have to know if feels good for a lot of these guys after seeing the lackluster crowds of the past few years.
"It's a great feeling to be back and have this atmosphere," said Trevor Daley. "These guys deserve it. They've been waiting a long time for this."
Antoine Roussel was perhaps the happiest of all the players we talked to about the home crowd.
"I love it. It was crazy," said Roussel. "At some point I was looking into the crowd and there were people that were standing up the entire period, it was amazing. It should be like that every game! I love it, it was amazing."
The Kari chants, the mocking of Freddie Andersen, the expletive-filled ranting against the questionable officiating -- it was all incredible and something we should all hope to see much more of in the near future.
Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn had a rough first period but really turned it on in the second and absolutely dominated the Ducks up and down the ice. Lindy Ruff took full advantage of last change and played the matchup game perfectly, pitting the Cody Eakin line against Getzlaf and Perry while Benn and company ran roughshod around the rink. While neither Seguin or Benn were able to cash in once the chances started to pile up after the second period, there were certainly plenty of chances to go around.
In the end, both players finished as the top possession forwards for the Stars -- along with Alex Chiasson, who continued his strong postseason play -- and both helped fuel a big win for this team, even if the points didn't quite rack up like they should have on a night like tonight.
Speaking of which, Valeri Nichushkin has also had a very good series and perhaps had his best game of his young playoff career tonight when he was finally rewarded with a goal on a wicked shot from the high slot. The goal finished off a flurry of prime chances for Nichushkin in the second period where he used his speed and size to get open along the boards and instead of bull-rushing the net he decided to actually shoot the puck -- just missing on a rather brilliant shot to the far corner on a rush up the left wing.
"He's been in on a lot of opportunities, even the other night in Anaheim," said Ruff of the young rookie after the game. "Tonight, I thought he had two really good opportunities and he scored on one of them. I thought he skated well and backchecked well, made a tremendous play on the power play. For a 19 year old, his effort has been tremendous. There are times where he might get loose to the puck but you can never fault his effort. He works hard and he can be a difference for us."
I know everyone wants to praise Patrick Nemeth and what he's been able to do, and for some reason we aren't allowed to criticize Jordie Benn any more -- but Brenden Dillon needs to return if for no other reason to get Benn back on the left side where he belongs. It's painfully obvious there just isn't a comfort there on getting the puck up the ice and out of the zone when he's on his off-hand, and he is allowed to be so much more aggressive with the puck when he's next to Dillon.
Kevin Connauton had a very good game, but Dillon's return would bring back some much needed balance on offense.
Cody Eakin and his line might have been dominated on possession tonight, but there were the difference makers in this game as they limited the best chances for the top line and did a great job of really getting under their skin and getting them off their game. When Eakin plays like he did on Monday, the Stars are such a good team and much more balanced and it's so very obvious when that happens -- which is usually on home ice.
Much more to come on this game.