It has been two years since the Ducks miraculously erased a late 2-goal deficit to oust the Stars from the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After a disappointing absence from the postseason last year, the playoffs were back in Big D.
The shorthanded Minnesota Wild did their best, but they got run off the ice at American Airlines Center 4-0 by the Dallas Stars. The crowd was in full voice throughout, and the team played a picture perfect playoff game.
The crowd was absolutely electric. It was so much fun to listen to, even if it was on TV. The fans did the team proud tonight.
First period started slow. Both teams got an early power play, and both teams failed to convert. Special teams and jitters were the story of the first period. The Stars failed to convert on 3 power play opportunities, and the Wild registered two shots on net in the first 20 minutes.
The shot clock was indicative of who dominated who in the frame. Dallas controlled play. The power play for Dallas was able to generate a few decent chances, but few in the "high danger" category. Devan Dubnyk was sharp and the Wild were disciplined in front of him. The first was probably about as well as Minnesota can play defensively. The scoreless period felt a lot like two nervous teams trying to wade into postseason play.
Open ice was a theme of the second period. The Wild were activating their blue line on the attack (wat), I guess they figured out they would need more than 2 shots per period to have a chance to win. Both teams were skating well and the playoff nerves slowly drifted into the background.
Dallas was able to open the scoring when Radek Faksa screamed a shot by a screened Dubnyk. It was a perfect shot high glove. The AAC was primed to explode, and Faksa kindly waited to oblige them until everyone was back from the restroom after intermission. The unsung hero of the play was Antoine Roussel literally jumping off the ice and through an open gate in the bench, narrowly avoiding an offsides call.
Minnesota was staggered, but they continued to find their groove. The Stars were able to spring Hemsky into the open, but Dubnyk dove from his net to poke the puck off of Hemsky's stick. It was a great play by the Wild goaltender.
About halfway through the second, both teams started to open up play. The Wild had a few decent chances to score on Kari Lehtonen, but the Big Finn stood tall.
Jason Spezza continued the Dallas onslaught with his patented fake-slapper that seemed to freeze Dubnyk off of his near post. Spezza made no mistake with the opening and snapped it by Dubnyk. The crowd started the "DUB-NYK" chant. The shots were 20-8 Dallas, and the score was 2-0 Stars. The rest of the period was characterized by goalies getting hit in the head with the puck, and the Wild trying to find a way to hold onto the puck despite their shorthanded lineup.
Minnesota was put on the job by Stephen Johns' flying "elbow" (butt end of the stick as it turns out). There was a load of loose pucks won by the Stars' penalty kill. Zucker had a good chance in front of Lehtonen's net, but that power play ended quickly after that when the Wild committed an elbowing infraction themselves.
The ensuing time on the power play saw Dallas nearly score twice. The most notable chance was Sceviour in on his own, but Dubnyk blockered his offering aside. The period ended 2-0, and Minnesota was probably just happy to survive the last push by Dallas.
The Stars didn't exactly "turtle" in the third period, but it was clear that the priority had shifted from "pile it on" to "cautiously proceed offensively". There were only 5 combined shots in the first 10 minutes. Both Lehtonen and Dubnyk were dutiful but untested throughout the early part of the third.
Vernon Fiddler was hit with a high stick, and the Stars went on the man-advantage with a chance to cash in a 3-goal insurance policy. Patrick Eaves delivered off of a rebound created by a shot from Jason Spezza. The Wild challenged the goal, begging for a goalie interference call, but the goal was upheld.
Jamie Benn would add an empty net goal for the final margin of 4-0.
People have wondered if this iteration of the Dallas Stars was ready for the postseason. The team answered some questions tonight. Kari Lehtonen, though largely untested, stayed clean. Jason Spezza recorded two points and Jamie Benn had a goal and two assists. The defense held the fort and forced the Wild to the outside all night.
Granted, this is an extremely shorthanded and cold Minnesota Wild team. But this is why you win the division, for a chance to play a team that isn't in their best form at the moment. This is the Stanley Cup Playoffs and anything can happen, but you'll take any small advantage you can.
There are still plenty of questions that hang over the team, but it is difficult to look at a 4-0 shutout as anything less than encouraging.
The Stars took care of business tonight. It was a grind at times, but it felt like Stars' hockey. It is so important that Dallas integrate their game to playoffs and they took a step on that road this evening.
Time to celebrate for a few hours, and then get ready for Saturday. Bring it on.