Despite the fact that only five points separate No. 4 Anaheim from No. 5 Dallas in the Western Conference standings, these teams enter the postseason heading in vastly different directions.
The defending-champion Ducks ended the season with a 20-5-1 finishing kick to show the same form that propelled them through last year's rugged Western Conference playoff bracket. The Stars, meanwhile, were forced to abandon any hopes of a division title by crawling home with a 4-8-2 mark in their last 14.
|Marty Turco and the Dallas Stars won five of their eight games this year over Samuel Pahlsson and the Anaheim Ducks.
Highlights of Ducks-Stars
Additionally, Dallas is hoping its late-season makeover will pay off in the postseason. After all, that is the reason management was so aggressive at the trade deadline, prying center Brad Richards away from Tampa Bay. Richards scored 26 points in 23 games during the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs to earn Conn Smythe honors as the Lightning won the title. He has averaged more than a point per game in his past three playoff runs.
But in the end, it is likely goaltending that will determine this series as each team features an elite goalie and sound defensive system. The Ducks are one of just five teams to allow fewer than 200 goals this season, while Dallas allowed just 207.
Dallas' Marty Turco, meanwhile, was dynamite last spring in the Stars' first-round loss, posting a 1.30 GAA, .952 save percentage and three shutouts in the seven-game series against Vancouver.
This time around, Turco will need more offensive help if the Stars want to end a run of three straight first-round ousters.
Anaheim will win if -- It plays the physical, grinding game that served the club so well last spring. The Ducks are so big and strong up front that they can wear down opposing teams during an extended series through a punishing forecheck and incessant cycling attack. Plus, the Ducks will have to get scoring from the blue line. In the season series against Dallas, defenseman scored six of the Ducks’ 15 goals.
Dallas will win if -- It wins the special-teams battle. In the regular-season series, Dallas scored 11 of its 24 goals on special teams, striking for nine power-play tallies and two shorthanded goals. For a team that often has trouble scoring five-on-five, the Stars need to click regularly with the man advantage. Another stellar goaltending showing – mirroring last year's yeoman-like effort from Turco – sure wouldn't hurt, either.