Playoff hockey has not been seen in Dallas since May of 2008 against the Detroit Red Wings. It returns tonight to an elated fanbase that's been thirsting for it these six long years.
The excitement is palpable, even if it arrives with the Anaheim Ducks holding a 2-0 death grip on the series after two one-goal victories at Honda Center last week. If the Stars want to turn this into a long series it simply must start with a victory tonight.
"We've played real good hockey, especially the last 15,20 games here," Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said Sunday. "In front of our crowd I think that added energy will help our team."
Dallas has been fortunate to escape further injury (that we know of) through two grueling road playoff games, but are no closer to getting back a piece they appear to need in Brenden Dillon. The defenseman skated on his own Sunday but has been ruled out for game three.
So they come home. They still don't have Brenden Dillon, but they have you (us), and they have last change. The question is what can they do with it?
For 28 of 41 even strength faceoffs in games one and two Bruce Boudreau deliberately chose to send Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry out there to counter Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin- And through two games it's to argue anything other than the fact that the home duo were the better two.
For 32 of the 41 Cam Fowler and Ben Lovejoy were sent to do the job along with Perry and Getzlaf. Those two lead the Duck's entire roster in even-strength ice time for the series.
So there's little doubt about what Bruce Boudreau wants and prefers. The question is what Lindy Ruff will do with that information. The advantage of having last change at home is to deny what the other team would prefer in lieu of what you yourselves find the most advantageous.
The interesting part is that when the Ducks were here in Dallas on November 26th Ruff sent Benn and Seguin out there against Perry and Getzlaf willingly- At least in the offensive zone. What unfolds tonight is anyone's guess, as Ruff does not always demonstrate a particular affinity for truly matching up over an extended period of time.
"We wanted to be better than the first game, and we were better than the first game," Ruff said on Easter Sunday. "We got our emotions in check, I thought we skated better, we had a lot more of the play in the offensive zone, our possession time was better, so you build off of that."
The Stars have, for the most part, carried play- But when there's a mistake it's been catastrophic, and Anaheim has converted more of their grade-A chances than has Dallas.
Part of that is skill/talent disparity between a #1 team and a #8 team. Part of it has been goaltending. Kari Lehtonen was not his best in game two, while Frederik Andersen shows no signs of being phased by playoff pressure as an inexperienced rookie. The Stars need to Kari to be better tonight.
Dallas finished 10-2-1 down the stretch at American Airlines Center and hopes that the extra energy will be enough to open the offensive flood-gates a bit.
The Ducks are no slouches on the road, however, finishing with the league's second highest away win total at 25-12-4 (juuust) behind the Colorado Avalanche at 26-11-4.
Key tonight could be avoiding special teams play altogether. After a 1-for-6 night not on the power play and just 15 shots on 18 minutes of power play time (less than a shot on goal per minute...) and a short handed goal against that broke their collective back, staying out of the box and keeping it 5-on-5 might be best.
And that means keeping level heads where certain individuals (Perry...) are concerned. Trevor Daley's exploits in that area were almost costly and Ryan Garbutt's penalty immediately upon missing the net on a breakaway were similarly avoidable. That having been said, the Stars 8.0 PIMs per game is fewest in the league as I write this Sunday night, tied with New York.
Mike Heika reports that Dallas ran these lines on Sunday:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alex Chiasson
Erk Cole-Cody Eakin-Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel-Vernon Fiddler-Ryan Garbutt
Ray Whitney-Shawn Horcoff-Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski-Trevor Daley
Patrik Nemeth-Jordie Benn
Kevin Connauton-Sergei Gonchar
Anaheim bolstered their roster further by recalling Emerson Etem from their AHL club. Etem was seen recording a hat trick just two weeks ago against the Binghamton Senators on the road, and adds more skill to an already skilled group. Matt Beleskey's status for game three is still up in the air.
Remember to sneak in a nap today at work. This one is at 8:30pm CST, and the Stars have yet to have their obligatory overtime fun...