When Lindy Ruff sent out the line of Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel to take the opening faceoff to start game three, matching them up head to head against Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf line, you knew what kind of night it was going to be for Dallas' agitating trio.
After having the Stars' top line of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin primarily go toe-to-toe with Getzlaf and Perry in games one and two, with mixed results, Ruff decided to go with a different tactic on Monday night. What seemed like a strategy that could have gone awry for the Stars, given the successful play of Anaheim's two best players so far this series, turned out to be one of the deciding factors in the Stars' 3-0 win.
Eakin, Garbutt and Roussel were a thorn in Anaheim's side from the drop of the puck, pushing the play with their speed, finishing their hits, and constantly chipping away at the Ducks' top players. Roussel and Garbutt have been two of the NHL's best agitators this season, and it certainly seemed like they were getting under the skin of Getzlaf and Perry as the game wore on.
Things eventually reached a boiling point late in the second period, highlighted by this punch-swinging exchange between Roussel and Getzlaf:
(An aside: come on, NBC. It's ANTOINE Roussel. This guy retired a long time ago)
"Playoff hockey is emotional," Ruff said about the after-whistle activities. "We've got a good skating team and we can frustrate and part of being physical is you have to get there. I thought there were times they were strong down low on us. I don't think either team crossed the line, I just thought it was playoff hockey."
While the, ahem, cleanliness of jabbing at a player's injured face is definitely a point of contention, playoff hockey is a different beast, and the Stars know that they have to play with an edge if they want to silence Anaheim's big guns and win this series.
It sure seems like it worked on Monday.
After scoring four points in the first two games in Anaheim, Ryan Getzlaf was kept off the scoresheet in game three, and was limited to only one shot on goal in 21 minutes of ice time. Perry? Also zero points and only three shots in 20 minutes of TOI.
While the Seguin line still matched up against the Getzlaf line occasionally throughout the game, according to Extraskater.com Getzlaf and Perry saw more of Eakin, Garbutt and Roussel than they did any other Stars forwards.
Adding salt to the Ducks' wound, it was Garbutt that scored Dallas' 3rd goal of the game 07:52 into the third period. It was a play where the Stars forwards simply outworked their opposition through a flurry of chances, eventually burying one to give Dallas a comfortable lead that they would not relinquish. All three members of the line got points on the play.
Perhaps the most important thing to come out of the matchup, however, was the freeing of the Stars' top line of Seguin, Benn and Valeri Nichushkin to go up against weaker competition from the Ducks as Ruff took advantage of last change on home ice. Dallas' top line got better as the game went along, and supplied the team's other two goals, thanks to a buried rebound by Benn in the first and a seeing eye wrist shot by Nichushkin in the second.
Will Eakin, Garbutt and Roussel be able to replicate that same level success in the rest of the series? It's tough to say. Getzlaf and Perry are two of the NHL's best forwards, and both had strong possession games despite not scoring, so it's more than likely that they are going to get back onto the scoresheet before long.
That being said, it's no secret that the Ducks are a front-heavy team. If you can keep Getzlaf and Perry out of the equation then suddenly they don't look like a team that finished first in the Western Conference. Suddenly they look very beatable. The Stars were successful with achieving that through their matchups for at least one game, and that will provide a strategy to work around as this series moves forward.