Four games have been played between the 8th best team in the West and the one that earned 116 points this season. Nothing has been decided.
The Dallas Stars went down 0-2 in this series and 0-2 in game four at home, but have bounced back in both instances to knot things up with Bruce Boudreau's Anaheim Ducks. The winner of game five (late) tonight sits in the driver's seat with two chances to clinch the fourth and deciding victory.
Stars head coach Lindy Ruff thinks his team has learned a lot through four games, including what to expect back at Honda Center tonight.
"Well, I think now we're facing an opportunity where we can create some pressure in their building," Ruff told media Thursday. "I think some of that apprehension that we had in that first game, a little bit to start the second game, I think that they know what to expect now, being in the visitors' building and the energy in the building and how important it is to be real good with the puck."
After their comeback in game four the Stars were evidently celebratory, but nearly every comment in this video leans toward an immediate focus on the next game in Anaheim, and that is a wonderful thing to see...
Meanwhile, the heart of the conversation heading into this one revolves around what the lineup will look like on defense.
At 29:08 per game now and rising Alex Goligoski's name is turning up in places on NHL.com where you can also see Duncan Keith, Ryan Suter, Alex Pietrangelo and Brent Seabrook. And his +4 while playing heavy minutes against the Ducks' top line in this series is better than the plus/minus ratings of those other four combined.
Am I saying that Alex Goligoski is Duncan Keith? Of course I'm not. He is, however, rising magnificently to this challenge, as is Trevor Daley.
Help would be nice, though, and that's the big question for today ahead of the 9:30pm CST start time- Who, if anyone, will return to help these guys out?
Brenden Dillon hasn't played in a full two weeks now, but did practice earlier in the week and sure seems like a real possibility for the first time in this series. Patrik Nemeth suffered and undisclosed injury in the first period of game four and did not return.
Both players are considered "game-time decisions" at last update from Lindy Ruff. One path includes them. The other Aaron Rome and more Kevin Connauton- And no, it isn't likely Ruff would scratch Sergei Gonchar, so don't ask.
On Anaheim's side the secrets continue, as they should this time of year. The single biggest determining factor in this series right now, outside the play of Kari Lehtonen, is the health of Ryan Getzlaf.
"I don't think I've missed a playoff game in my career," he told media Thursday. "It was a tough thing to watch last night and not be a part of it. It's not in my nature to step away from the game unless someone forces me to."
Presumably that would the doctors that forced him to. For what reason it's unclear. He's being called questionable, and it would not be a surprise to see him take the ice for warm-ups. It should be expected, in fact.
If the Dallas Stars are going to climb this hill, chances are they will have to earn it against an opponent at full strength. That likely means a returning, and uber-motivated Teemu Selanne after a healthy scratch. It means the Duck captain that has serious unfinished business against the pesky Stars. It includes...well, one of those goaltenders.
Boudreau wouldn't name a starter ahead of games one and two, though everyone knew Frederik Andersen was the guy. As the series shifts back to Anaheim there are no assumptions. The Stars chased Andersen, as they'd chased Jonas Hiller earlier in the season, and now either starting would not be a shock. The spotlight was getting bright for Andersen in Dallas. Is going back home enough to trust the rookie, or will Hiller be given a new lease on life?
Getzlaf, Perry, Selanne, Maroon, Andersen- There are plenty of villains in this play, but act five in Anaheim may feature one of the most powerful yet: The Duck crowd. That fan-base has watched from afar as the war of words escalated in the wake of an emotional game three, and now will have their first crack at vocalizing their displeasure and passions- Attempting to equal the raucous scene in Dallas and will their guys that little extra.
The discipline to withstand those opening minutes and not make the mistakes that change a series as it stands on the edge of a knife in a pivotal game five will determine Dallas' success or failure. Roussel, Garbutt, Dillon if he's back- All the usual suspects must stay out of the penalty box and realize that there will be a lot of talking and a lot of face-rubbing. The only things that matter are those numbers on the scoreboard, however.
At the same time, the narrative of the series as spewed by the MSM is not a false one. The Stars have had success making Anaheim crazy. The little undersized eight-seed Stars have made them absolutely batty, and that must continue, as long as the cost is not too high. Just keep doing what you're doing.
"We've got to hold our home-ice advantage," Getzlaf said yesterday. "We worked hard during the season to get it, and we've got to hold it tomorrow."
The Stars were THIS close to taking it from them last week. Any vestiges of "just happy to be here" from the team and the fan-base have evaporated wholly. If there is a time to strike at Honda Center, this is it.