One thing I think all Dallas Stars fans can agree on this morning is that coach Lindy Ruff has some nerves of steel.
Had Dallas won last night, that would have set the Stars up to be able to clinch with a regulation loss by Phoenix tonight and relieve the pressure of a "win-and-in" scenario in the desert on Sunday. They were playing a desperate Columbus Blue Jackets team that could clinch their own playoff spot last night with a win. Both teams had a lot on the line.
So of course Tim Thomas would start this game.
I'm pretty sure every Stars fan scratched their collective heads with the starting of Thomas in net. Surely you would ride your starting goaltender until you clinched, right?
Then I thought about it. It made perfect sense for Thomas to go last night.
A) It's the second half of a back-to-back and the team's fourth game in five nights.
B) Kari Lehtonen started the previous three games.
C) You get the St Louis Blues (a potential first round opponent?) on your home ice the last night of the regular season.
D) You have to play the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday, quite possibly THE biggest game of the season.
Lehtonen needed the rest; he didn't look the sharpest in his last outing as the game flagged on. So instead of risking the starter getting injured after playing so much in the last week, Ruff went with the logical choice instead of relying completely on Lehtonen down the stretch.
That takes some nerves of steel. Less experienced coaches may have been more reluctant to start the backup with the pressure to make the playoffs and every point needed to achieve that goal.
Ruff has been here before, though. He knew where his team was last night. He also knows they have two big games coming up and that Lehtonen couldn't play in six games in nine nights at the level he needs to play at for the Stars. This was the perfect time to get him rested. The night off last night gives Lehtonen two days without playing before they host St Louis at home, and then he gets a night off before Phoenix.
They're focused on the long game instead of the short gain. That's what an experienced coach brings to the table. It's a perfect focus for a young team in Dallas on the cusp of ending this forsaken playoff-less streak.
His coaching last night was so much more than just the decision on starting goaltender, however.
The team had nothing going the first two periods of the game, and yet somehow they came out in the third with a fire lit under them. The decision to pull the goaltender on the powerplay about midway through the third was not something I've seen here in Dallas in a long time. It was a gamble that had little-to-no risk but a high reward. The reward being that you get your power play (which has been struggling with a capital S lately) on the board and give you some momentum in the game.
It worked like a charm. The Stars scored and the building erupted. The crowd got really into the game at that time (really there wasn't much to cheer after the first so the team and building both were lacking energy). It felt like a playoff game. You could see the change in the Stars demeanor. They started to play their game again. Sure, they fell short of tying things up and getting a point. But if they can play like they did in the third period on any given night this team will make some noise.
That's the biggest thing Ruff's coaching gave this team last night -- the lesson that, when things get down, you can dig deeper and find that little extra and you'll get success from it.