If ever there was a playoff game where both teams could say they got what they needed, the Ducks’ 4-3 win over the Stars was it. Anaheim dominated early and held serve at home to take a 1-0 series lead, but Dallas shook off some early jitters and nearly clawed back from a four-goal deficit. The Stars are still in a 1-0 hole, but by establishing their game over the final 25 minutes they proved that they can hang with the higher-seeded Ducks in this series.
Some observations after the opener:
• Still smarting from last season’s early exit, Anaheim has adopted the phrase “Unfinished Business” as this year’s playoff slogan. The Ducks came out of the gate quickly, taking advantage of a Dallas club that looked every bit as nervous as you’d expect a young team to be. Anaheim got on the board 1:53 into the game when Kyle Palmieri backhanded a sweet saucer pass from Nick Bonino past Kari Lehtonen. The Ducks began to pull away later in the period thanks to a Ryan Getzlaf tip-in at 12:49 and a Mathieu Perreault power play goal at 19:30. They led 3-0 at the end of the first despite the fact that the Stars had outshot them 14-10. Meanwhile, Anaheim was able to push the Dallas attack to the outside, effectively eliminating the impact of the Stars’ speed and forcing the visitors to settle for low-percentage chances. Dallas was able to generate some offense through the middle in the third period, when the Ducks went into a prevent defense. When Anaheim was focused, however, it controlled the high-value areas.
• Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau made a bold choice and started Frederik Andersen in goal. The rookie was solid early on, sealing his posts and controlling rebounds on the way to savomg 32 of 35 shots. Still, the Stars have to feel good about getting to him late. He didn’t look soft on any of the goals, but the you’re-not-gonna-beat-me confidence that Andersen exuded early faded as the game wore on. He’ll need a good start in Game 2 to get his mojo back.
• In the early going, Kari Lehtonen looked every bit the goalie who gave up 11 goals in his two previous playoff starts. As was the case with Andersen, Lehtonen wasn’t necessarily to blame on any of the goals, but he failed to come up with the big stop that the shaky Stars desperately needed. There was a statement to be made on that Palmieri chance — if Lehtonen comes up with that one, the entire complexion of the game changes. But the goalie couldn’t make it happen.
Lehtonen eventually settled down in the second and third periods, and he made huge stops on both Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the game’s dying minutes, when Dallas was frantically chasing the equalizer. Those were big moments that he can build on.
• Outside of Andersen’s performance, the key to the win may have been the play of Anaheim’s depth players. There was terrific effort on the penalty kill from Daniel Winnik and Andrew Cogliano, and the forecheck was effective at disrupting the Stars’ transition game. The Ducks’ forecheckers went about their work hard and fast, forcing Dallas into a series of bad decisions and keeping the Stars pinned in their own zone for exhausting stretches. By the end of the first period, Dallas was so focused on the puck that they let up on their coverage away from it, leading directly to Anaheim’s backbreaking second and third goals.
• Ryan Garbutt has to be smarter than he was midway through the second period, when he took an unsportsmanlike penalty that led to Matt Beleskey’s game-winning goal. Frustration comes with the territory this time of year, and Garbutt’s inability to control his cost the Stars dearly. Big moment for the Ducks — Beleskey’s goal marked the first time their power play had connected more than once in a game since early January.
• Perry has just two goals in his last 14 playoff games, but he had some great looks on Wednesday night. He led Anaheim with six shots, including one snapper that rang off the post on a third-period power play. Getzlaf was good early on, but lagged late in the game. He was beaten on a key defensive zone draw by Jamie Benn in the final minute just before he took a Tyler Seguin slapper to the grill that left him leaking oil — and probably short a couple of Chiclets. Tough way to finish off the evening.
• Not a great night for the Ducks’ Stephane Robidas, who was facing his old team for the first time. It was his high-sticking penalty late in the second period that opened the door for the comeback, and his failure to tie up Seguin’s stick out front allowed Dallas to close the gap to 4-3 late in the third. After spending 10 years with the Stars, Robidas might have let this game slip away from him mentally. Look for him to be sharper, and more effective, in Game 2.
• Dallas spent the first period beating itself, so it was critical that the Stars stop the bleeding and find something to build on for Game 2. Benn did everything he could to provide a boost with an energetic performance, which was highlighted early on by a devastating hit on Getzlaf. Benn’s five-on-three goal at 16:36 of the second period, which finally punctured Andersen’s armor, was a big moment for Dallas — you could almost see the weight slip off the Stars’ shoulders. Colton Sceviour scored to make it 4-2 just 93 seconds later, earning himself a promotion to the top line for the rest of the game. His guile and ability to find space down low made him a better option than Val Nichushkin, who struggled with and without the puck, and who looked overwhelmed by the big stage.
• Dallas really missed Brenden Dillon; the big defenseman is still nursing an unspecified injury. Aaron Rome took his place in the lineup. Rome’s lack of foot speed was fatal on Palmieri’s opening goal, and he can’t clog up the shooting lanes the way Dillon can. No word on whether Dillon will be able to go for Game 2, but it’s clear that the Stars need him.