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Ruff, Hitchcock meet again in playoffs

Longtime coaches lead Stars, Blues into Western Conference Second Round

by Steve Hunt / Correspondent

FRISCO, Texas -- Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff will match wits against St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third time, and for Ruff that's a good thing.

"Facing Ken is a challenge," Ruff said. "He's a good coach. Matchups are going to be tough, details are going to be tough. There's a reason he's coached so long."

Hitchcock and Ruff met in the 1999 Stanley Cup Final when the Stars, coached by Hitchcock, defeated the Buffalo Sabres, coached by Ruff, in six games. Dallas won the Cup with a 2-1 win in triple overtime in Game 6, with Brett Hull scoring the game-winner despite debate whether one of his skates was in the crease or not.

In 2006, Hitchcock and Ruff met when the Sabres eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in six games.

There have been harsh words between the two in the past, but after working together on several occasions with Canada, most recently at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the two longtime coaches have a strong mutual respect for one another.

"Yeah, I learned a lot [by being around him], learned actually at the end to like him," Ruff said.

But the irony of Ruff now coaching the Stars while facing Hitchcock again is not lost on the Dallas coach.

"Yeah, it's a full about-face. I like where our team is at, I like where our team has got to and I'm sure he is sitting in the same place," Ruff said. "… It's not about him or I, it's about how the teams are going to play."

Video: Ken Hitchcock on series win against Blackhawks

The Blues and Stars begin the Western Conference Second Round with Game 1 of the best-of-7 series Friday at American Airlines Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports).

St. Louis defeated Dallas in four of five games during the regular season, three wins coming in overtime or a shootout.

Stars center Jason Spezza said he knows the Blues present a formidable challenge in the second round, which Dallas reached after defeating the Minnesota Wild 4-2 in the first round.

"They're a big, physical team that clogs up the slot, can play good lockdown defense," Spezza said. "They don't give you much, they try to keep you to the outside. They're probably similar to how Minnesota played by really getting five guys tight, but just a better version. They're a team we have a lot of respect for and had close games with all year."

Stars center Tyler Seguin, who played in Game 2 against the Wild but continues to experience issues related to the partially cut Achilles sustained in March, did not skate Tuesday.

"[He's] just still rehabbing, we don't expect him to skate in the next few days," Ruff said.

Video: Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues Round 2 Preview

The news is more favorable on center Cody Eakin, who was given a maintenance day by Ruff on Tuesday. Eakin had three points against the Wild.

"We thought we'd give him one extra day, but he'll be at the next practice," Ruff said.

In their 5-4 win in Game 6 against the Wild on Sunday at XCel Energy Center, the Stars blew a 4-0 lead before holding on to win 5-4. Captain Jamie Benn realizes there are plenty of lessons to be taken from that, and from the storm the Stars weathered in the third period against Minnesota.

"[We need to] just clean up little bits of everything," Benn said. "You just want to keep getting better as you go on in each and every game and every series. I think as long as we take care of the details and stick to our game plan, and worry about what we have to do to win every night, we'll make adjustments throughout the series.

"But we just have to worry about ourselves."

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