The team scoring first in the opening five games of the series emerged the winner. At the start of the night, teams that notched the first goal in these playoffs had prevailed 32 of 42 times. In the regular season, first scorers won at a 70 percent clip.
And for the second straight game, Corey Perry of the Ducks bagged the game's first goal, placing the Stars squarely behind the 8-ball.
But the mood was upbeat in the Stars dressing room between the second and third periods. Despite a fluttering shot by Perry that escaped through Marty Turco’s pads early in the second period, the Stars held an edge in most statistical categories. They had been the better team but they had to prove it on the scoreboard.
Then came a critical 52-second span early in the final period that produced rapid-fire goals by Stephane Robidas
and Stu Barnes. Dallas had seized the momentum and the Stars wouldn’t let go.
“Our coaching staff after the second period, we said we're going to win this game,’’ Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “We felt really good about our team. We were doing so many good things that we had a real strong chance to win this game.’’
Dallas’ 4-1 victory knocked last season’s Stanley Cup champs out of the playoffs. This was the third time the Stars-NorthStars franchise had eliminated the defending Cup champions. Minnesota sent Montreal home in 1980 and dethroned Edmonton in 1991.
The Stars also got their first clincher at home since the 2000 playoffs when they dispatched Colorado in the conference finals.
The hulking Ducks held a distinct size advantage in the series, so it was entirely fitting that two Stars of modest stature _ Robidas and Barnes _ delivered the key goals.
“They came out and pushed us around but we pushed back,’’ Stars captain Brenden Morrow
Failing to escape the first round in their last three playoff appearances had been a sore subject for the Stars. Now they have loftier goals.
“It would be easy to feel good and stop right here,’’ Turco said. “But that's not the case. For all we've been through, we talk about doing what we're capable of and not just one series. We want to win it all. That's why it's been so disappointing over the years.’’
The Stars had the better of the play in the first period. Dallas held an 8-6 edge in shots, won 9 of 14 faceoffs, held an 18-9 advantage on hits, and forced 10 turnovers to four for the Ducks.
But the teams were scoreless until Perry stunned the sellout crowd at the AAC with his quick shot from the right circle that beat Turco at 2:11 of the second period.
Turco has been the Stars’ best player throughout the series, but Perry’s attempt ended up in the back of the net.
"There's a little hole between the pads and the puck fluttered,’’ Turco said. “I don’t have a wall between the pads. It was a huge goal. It could have been deflating for the team. But we didn't get down on ourselves.''
Turco’s teammates were determined to pick him up.
"Marty's bailed us out so many times,’’ Morrow said. “We knew one goal wasn't going to beat us.’’
Once the Stars went ahead, they didn’t give in to the temptation to sit on the lead. They kept attacking and they were rewarded with Loui Eriksson
notched his third goal of the series at 17:42 of the final period.
“Against a team like Anaheim, if you lay back and let them come at you, they're so fast, strong and talented, they're going to create something, so we decided to keep pushing and stay aggressive,’’ Barnes said.
According to one sign in the stands at the AAC, “Duck Season is Over.’’
Indeed it is. Now the Stars move on to the second round for the first time since 2003 against an opponent yet to be determined.
“This is huge," Robidas said. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Now it gets even tougher. We have one goal in mind and that's the Stanley Cup.’’