The NHL Stanley Cup playoffs start tomorrow for the Dallas Stars as they travel out west to face their former division rivals, Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim (54-20-8-116) finished first overall in the West and trailed the Boston Bruins by just one point for the President’s Trophy for best overall record. Dallas (40-31-11-91) clinched the 8th and final playoff spot last Friday when they beat the St. Louis Blues, 3-0.
As Stars fans, we all know our stats. We know how vital Kari Lehtonen will be for Dallas in net. We know that we cannot expect a deep playoff run if Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are the only two putting the puck in the Duck’s net. But what should Stars fans expect from Anaheim? Granted, it’s only been a season since we’ve had to face the Ducks on a regular basis, but as the Stars would attest; what a difference a year makes.
StarsInsider.com was fortunate to have Anaheim beat writer for the Orange County Register, Eric Stephens spend a few moments laying out what he feels Anaheim brings to the series and what it will take for them to move on to the 2nd round for the first time since 2009.
StarsInsider: The only player remaining on the Stars last playoff team of 2008 is Trevor Daley. Obviously, Anaheim has a number of players remaining, including the offensive core. Has there been any talk of “avenging” the 6-game upset from 2008 or are the players not even recognizing that?
Eric Stephens: There's a few key pieces from that 2008 Ducks team like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Francois Beauchemin and Teemu Selanne but it is by an large an entirely different team. I don't get a sense that the loss to Dallas back then has come up much. I think with the Ducks, it's more about making amends for last season's first-round exit against Dallas and the fact that they haven't won a playoff series since 2009.
SI: Bruce Boudreau said he is leaning on Stephane Robidas for “inside” information. What is Robidas’ mindset heading into this match-up? It’s generally one thing when a traded player plays their former team for the first time, but this is the playoffs, so obviously, the stakes are higher.
ES: As you know, Stephane is an engaging person who -- at least from what I've come to learn and know -- is more candid than most with his answers. He's made it clear that this is not a series where it is him against his old team. If he has to get tough and physical with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin or any of the other Stars he'll regularly defend against, he'll do so. There is no question that Dallas is home for him and that it will always be so. He has been nothing but gracious about the Stars' management and that they sent him to a team where he feels he could possibly win a Stanley Cup. And that is his focus. He looks at Dallas now as a team that is in his way of hoisting the Cup.
SI: What is the one area of Anaheim’s game that will give the Stars the biggest “fits?” What do the Stars bring that strike “fear” in the Ducks?”
ES: Good question. I had to think about this one for a bit. I think the fact that the Ducks can comfortably play any style their opponent wishes to do. They have enough size with Getzlaf and Perry, along with emerging power forward Pat Maroon, and that could give the Stars fits. I think they feel they're adaptable. If Dallas wants to get physical, they'll happily go along with that. If the Stars play a speed game, as I think they'll do, Anaheim thinks it has enough in its lineup to keep up.
Having said that, Dallas is a much faster team than I've seen from it in recent memory. The Ducks did have some trouble with speed teams like Edmonton and Winnipeg late in the year, while Toronto gave them trouble as well. Was it a potential flaw or was it a team not motivated to play non-playoff squads? I don't know. I do think that if grinders like Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt continue to get under the Ducks' skin and chip in with key goals like they did during the regular season, it could be something that will help turn the tide for the Stars. Well, and the play of Kari Lehtonen, who seems to bedevil the Ducks.
SI: Since winning the Cup in 07, the Ducks have advanced out of the quarters just once in 4 times. What’s different about this team to buck that trend?
ES: I do think they are better than last season and that this is clearly their best team since that 2006-09 run when they won seven out of 10 playoff series they were in. It is a deeper team with players not many know about that have become key contributors like Maroon, Nick Bonino, Kyle Palmieri, Matt Beleskey and Mathieu Perreault. The Ducks don't really have a second scoring line that puts up a lot of points but they've got three lines beyond the Getzlaf-Perry duo that have the capability of producing offense.
The defense still gives up too many chances and it may still be their ultimate downfall. But it is better than last year's edition. Cam Fowler is their leader and now plays like a No. 1 while bedrock Francois Beauchemin is healthy this time around. Rookie Hampus Lindholm will have to continue to display the same strong all-around play he showed during the regular season. And Stephane has already assumed a big role, which the Ducks hoped after he recovered from his broken leg.
Goaltending is, of course, a major question mark and the Ducks appear to be taking a real chance in going with playoff ingénues in Frederik Andersen and John Gibson instead of Jonas Hiller. Hiller's struggles after coming back from Sochi have played a lot into Bruce Boudreau's decision to go with the youngsters but Andersen and Gibson have frankly been better in goal and Boudreau is going with the hotter hands. But Hiller wasn’t a game-changer last year against Detroit, whereas Andersen and Gibson might have the capability to steal a game or two.
SI: What can the Stars expect from Getzlaf/Perry in a 7 games series (physicality, speed, etc)?
ES: First and foremost, I think Getzlaf and Perry are highly motivated to atone for previous playoff failures. Getzlaf wants to lead a team on a Cup run as the captain and a featured player, instead of the supporting role he had in '07. Perry is the same way and he'll have the memory of going without a goal in seven games against the Red Wings last spring. I'd imagine those two will want to play a power game and use their size effectively. Perry will stir things up but he's more judicious about when he does things like that than earlier in his career. Both finished in the NHL's top five in scoring but I guess they'd rather have a big impact in the playoffs.
SI: Offense, defense, special teams, coaching and intangibles: how do you give the edge to in each and your prediction for the series?
ES: I think Dallas has some intriguing X-factors in Valeri Nichushukin, Cody Eakin and Alex Chiasson. If they can add to the impact Benn and Seguin is expected to have, it'll make the Stars deeper but I still think the Ducks have more sources of offense. They're also one of the NHL's best in five-on-five play, which to me takes on greater importance this time of the year.
Defense is an interesting one. Both teams will give up chances. The Ducks can play a shutdown game but no one is going to mistake them for the Kings in that regard. I like Brenden Dillon and while Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski have been solid, I don't know if I can trust them to be mistake-free over a long series. A slim edge to the Ducks.
Special teams aren't great for either. Ducks should be far better on power play than they've been all season. To me, penalty killing will be more important.
I think Bruce Boudreau is a first-level coach but I do wonder if there's a common thread with all his early playoff exits. He needs a long playoff run. I do think he tinkers and over-thinks situations when it is sometimes not needed. Case in point was splitting up Getzlaf and Perry to start Game 7 against Detroit last year to react to Mike Babcock putting Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on different lines. You make the other team adapt to you. It's hard to argue against Lindy Ruff, who only showed that he's a pretty damn good coach after his run in Buffalo.
Dallas is going to be a dangerous foe for Anaheim. Personally, I thought they were the team the Ducks would least like to face in the first round outside of L.A. It just might come down to goaltending as there will be offensive chances galore by both teams. Lehtonen has the talent to steal a series and maybe either Andersen or Gibson might be unnerved by their first time under the playoff glare.
But I just think the Ducks are too deep and too motivated. Ducks in 6.
I’ve always been one to consider the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs as being the most exciting. You have kind of a “March Madness” feel with lower-seeded teams being a little more on the plane with the top teams, but because there are little to no expectations, perhaps a team like Dallas can find lightning in a bottle and pull off a “royal” miracle the way the Kings did in 2012. One thing is for certain, especially after reading the thoughts of Mr. Stephens is that this is going to be an epic series. My heart tells me Stars in 6 games, but my gut leans towards Eric’s prediction of Ducks advancing. One thing I do know, is that this will be the series that will be talked about all summer.
Ladies and gentlemen…it’s playoff time.