DALLAS -- It's been quite a while since Trevor Daley experienced playoff hockey -- six years to be exact. He's the longest-tenured member of the Dallas Stars and the only player on the current roster who was a member of the last Dallas team to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, in 2008. So the sense of relief he expressed following a 3-0 playoff-clinching win against the St. Louis Blues on Friday night was understandable.
"It's a great feeling," Daley said. "We've been battling hard for a long time. It's just kind of like a little bit of a relief and we could go in knowing that the next game that we're in and get ready for the playoffs."
Defense - DAL
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 25
SOG: 107 | +/-: 10
Daley made his debut with the Stars in October 2003. He has played 425 regular-season games under three different ownership groups and four different coaches since his last playoff appearance, when the Stars lost in six games to the Detroit Red Wings
in the 2008 Western Conference Final.
"Every year's a new year. Obviously the past never really leaves you, especially when you haven't gotten in and it's been an ongoing thing for the last five, six years now," Daley said. "Obviously that was in the back of my mind. Just a great feeling, it was a great night. The crowd was unbelievable and they lifted us to two points tonight."
Daley not only led Dallas with 28:31 of ice time against the Blues, he also delivered the game-winner when he opened the scoring 5:52 into the second period by beating St. Louis goalie Ryan Miller with a backhander on a breakaway.
"A little bit of disbelief that I was on a breakaway. I noticed the two guys kind of collided," Daley said. "I knew I had a little bit of time. I just tried to make the first move and see what he did and managed to beat a pretty good goalie."
That goal was Daley's ninth of the season, a career-high. He was also credited with the secondary assist on a power-play goal by Tyler Seguin later in the period that gave the Stars a 2-0 lead.
But the two-point performance Daley delivered in what will be remembered as the night the Stars returned to the postseason was just one reason first-year coach Lindy Ruff is happy to have him on the roster.
"These last 40 games, he's been incredible for us. He's outskated the opposition. He's out competed them. That's the Trevor Daley that can make a difference game in and game out," Ruff said.
Daley has been the one constant in an organization that has undergone immense change on and off the ice since Dallas' last trip to the postseason. Hearing him talk about all that he's seen since the Stars' most recent trip to the playoffs shows just how far the franchise has come under owner Tom Gaglardi, new general manager Jim Nill, who was brought in last April, and Ruff, one of Nill's first hires.
"When I came into this team, it was a different type of market. It was easy to go out and get the guy you needed," Daley said. "And now with the way the salary cap is, it's a little tougher to do stuff like that. Over the past few years in between not having an owner and getting an owner, it just wasn't easy and obviously we tried really hard to get in but it just didn't come. Now we have some stability. We have an unbelievable GM, a great coach and an owner that believes in us."