They say in a best-of-7 series, the series doesn't start until the road team wins a game.
Don't tell that to the Dallas Stars, who played perhaps their best game of the entire 2013-2014 season in front of one of the loudest crowds ever to see a hockey game at the American Airlines Center. Perhaps the later start help rev up the fans who took to social media and sports talk radio all day in anticipation of the Stars game 3 match up with the Anaheim Ducks.
The crowd of 18,532 was not disappointed as the home team beat Anaheim by a score of 3-0 to pull their best-of-7 series to 2-1. The home team has won each of the three games, but this was the first by more than one goal. The victory also gives Stars goaltender, Kari Lehtonen, his first playoff win of his career (5 tries). Game 4 will be in Dallas on Wednesday night starting at 7:00 PM (please, for the love of all that is holy, show up on time like you did tonight).
From the moment Ralph Strangis and Daryl "Razor" Reaugh took to the airwaves, you could feel the exciting building and once the Stars took too the ice, the roof of the AAC was shaking for the entire night, minus a horrific moment in the 2nd period that saw Ducks defenseman, and former long-time Dallas Star, Stephane Robidas get tangled up with Stars forward, Ryan Garbutt. Prior to the start of the 3rd, news began to resonate that Robidas had re-broken his right leg, just above where his fracture was when he broke his leg in the end boards against Chicago in November.
It appeared as if the game was going to be a back and forth defensive battle, waiting for one team to make a serious mistake. It didn't seem like the first period was going to see any scoring despite the fact that Anaheim outshot Dallas 13-9. Both teams went 0-1 on the power play, but it was Jamie Benn's hooking call at 17:15 of the first period that potentially set up the first goal of the night. Just as time expired, Benn joined the rush with Shawn Horcoff and Tyler Seguin. Trevor Daley carried the puck into the Duck's zone and hit Horcoff in the slot with a pass through Francois Beauchemin. Horcoff swept a wrist shot towards Anaheim netminder, Frederik Andersen who was unable to control the rebound which found it's way to Benn's stick which he sent back over Andersen's glove-side shoulder at 19:25 of the first period.
Again, the Stars were grossly outshot in the middle frame by a tally of 17-6 but it was again, off of the penalty kill that saw Dallas increase their lead. Sergei Gonchar started the Stars from behind the blue line and fed Kevin Connauton who found Colton Sceviour up the left side wall. Sceviour found Seguin streaking down the middle of the ice who dropped the puck to Stars first round draft pick from this summer's draft, Valeri Nichushkin who fired the puck between Andersen's legs to double-up on the ducks with less than 3 minutes to go in the 2nd period. A minute later, the Stars system of hockey finally got under the skin of Duck's captain, Ryan Getzlaf. Still wearing a protective shield around his jaw from a Seguin slapshot he took to the face in the waning seconds of game one, Getzlaf took a couple of pokes at Lehtonen after Kari covered the puck. Taking exception, Antoine Roussel began to push at Getzlaf and even took a swipe at the protective covering. Ryan then began to flail his arms at Roussel who, before being separated by the officials and given a 2nd minor for roughing, got one good left hook into the grill of Getzlaf, staggering him backwards.
In his post game comments, Stars coach, Lindy Ruff stated, "I told those guys to stay out of scrums. I thought we were getting wailed on. I thought it was a tough call. Unfortunately, I thought we got the tough end of it tonight."
Scoring would complete itself in the 3rd period when at the 7:52 mark, Ryan Garbutt took a centering pass from Roussel who wristed the puck on net. The rebound went right to the stick of Cody Eakin who was in on a bad angle, but the ensuing Andersen rebound found Garbutt in the slot who pushed the puck under Frederik's pads to give the Stars their 3-0 lead to carry them into the night.
Ruff took notice of the fans tonight, saying, "On the bench, you just take a look around and it puts a smile on your face. You get so many opportunities to do this and I think some of that you have to absorb and take in. You could tell they have been waiting for a playoff game."
After the game, Daley was asked when he felt that his goaltender was going to be on his game. "I knew at the morning skate," Daley said. "I don't think he let one puck in during skate and generally when that happens, you know he's gonna be great."
I've always been a big advocate of game 3 is the most important in a series. You can either go up 3 games to none, regain/maintain home ice in a 1-1 series or in the Stars case, you take the momentum away from a team that is up 2 games to none. Now that doubt starts to creep into the heads of Anaheim players and coaches. Being lucky enough to escape Orange County being up two games, the Ducks have to realize (and judging from their postgame whining, they are) that the Stars have now figured out how to beat their best players. You have to get traffic at Frederik Andersen and fight in the trenches for the rebounds and loose pucks and most importantly, you have to punch and counter punch the Duck's top duo of Getzlaf and Corey Perry, both of whom proved tonight that when being pushed around and knocked off their skates, they focus more on the officials than the do the game on the ice.
Monday night, the Stars counter punched. Wednesday, they look to start working the body and knocking the wind out of the Duck's sails.