DALLAS (105.3 THE FAN) — The Dallas Stars were slow, outhustled and outworked in the first period of Wednesday night’s Game 4 against the Ducks at the American Airlines Center. The result — a quick 2-0 deficit.
“I thought we were slow to move the puck, didn’t quite get our feet moving, had a couple of good offensive chances that we were just a little slow with too,” said head coach Lindy Ruff after the game.
At the intermission, Ruff says he stressed the need for his team to get their feet moving, get some speed through the neutral zone, and press the Ducks defense.
Jamie Benn grasped the “speed” message quickly.
The captain won a faceoff near center ice, split the Anaheim defense, and beat goaltender Frederik Andersen with a quick wrister just 29 seconds into the period to pull the Stars within one.
The slick-skating Stars continued the offensive surge in the second, outshooting the Ducks 16-3 and registering two goals after Ruff’s message was delivered.
“After that, the last 40 was as hard as the boys could go,” said Ruff. “They emptied the tank.”
Cody Eakin put the team’s speed on fully display in the third period, skating around a diving defender while driving towards the net. Eakin released a wrister to beat Andersen and give the Stars a 3-2 advantage.
“I thought when we were driving all the lanes and pushing them back, it puts a lot of pressure on their four and five to get back,” said Ruff. “If they don’t get back, we get an opportunity. It’s been probably one of our biggest assets all year. When we’re skating, we’re tough to play against.”
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau agrees.
“They’re obviously quick. They jump into the play very well,” said Boudreau. “I think what we have to do is, when we get our forecheck going, we have to make them play 200 feet, and then we have to make sure we’re not getting all three guys caught.”
“Once you get three guys caught — and that happened about four or five times after the first period — then they’re coming down 4-on-2, 3-on-2. They’re ready to go offensively right away.”
While speed was the driving force behind the Stars second consecutive win, the physical tone of Game 3 carried over into Wednesday. 74 penalty minutes were handed out in the third, and the fighting continued well after the final horn had sounded.
But the speedy Stars didn’t back down, despite accusations following game three that Dallas was “crossing the line” with its physical play.
Ruff has no problem with the approach — particularly in the postseason.
“That was just playoff hockey. That was fun for everybody. That’s the type of stuff — it’s their push back, it’s our push back — that’s just playoff emotion. I really feel like we’re in a playoff series now.”
Boudreau expects the physical play to continue when Dallas visits Anaheim for Game 5 on Friday night. And if Dallas wants a chance to close things out in Game 6 in Dallas on Sunday — they’ll need their speed too.
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