The Dallas Stars were a little more than two minutes away from forcing a seventh game in their first round playoff series with Anaheim, and then things fell apart. The Ducks scored two late goals to erase a 4-2 Dallas lead and then scored early in overtime to defeat the Stars, 5-4, and win the series 4-2.
“It’s hard to say anything right now,” said Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen. “We played hard and it turned quickly there in the third. That’s the way it goes, and that’s it.”
“It happened so fast, it’s a bit of a shock,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn.
The Ducks forced overtime and silenced a raucous American Airlines Center crowd of 19,323 by scoring two late goals, both with goaltender Jonas Hiller out of the net. With the two sides playing five-on-four, Nick Bonino scored from close range with 2:10 remaining to make it a 4-3 game. And then Devante Smith-Pelly scored with the teams playing six-on-five off a scramble in front of the Dallas net with 24 seconds left to tie the game 4-4 and send the game beyond regulation.
“I wasn’t expecting it to happen,” said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. “Quite frankly, I got to thank [Colorado coach] Patrick Roy. If he didn’t start pulling the goalie so early all year, I don’t think any of the teams would have done it and he’s had such great success with Colorado, so you see that and more and more teams are pulling the goalie, not with a minute to go, but with two, two and a half minutes and figured when you got to get two goals, it makes perfect sense so we did it tonight, and we got lucky.”
And then 2:47 into overtime, Nick Bonino scored from the slot to give the Ducks the win and end the Stars’ season.
“[Andrew Cogliano] put it right on my stick I didn't even look I just put it on net and I think Patrick [Maroon] had a great screen,” said Bonino.
It was a tough ending for the Stars, who grabbed an early lead in the game and had the better of play for most of the game, building 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 leads in the game.
“It was tough to lose this game considering how well we played the whole series. We had dominant periods where the only thing missing was a little bit of finish,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. ”We had it right there at 4-2 with two minutes to play. It’s a cruel way. Sometimes hockey is cruel. It was cruel, really cruel to a group of guys that worked as hard as they possibly could tonight.”
“I am very proud of our guys,” said Stars center Tyler Seguin. “I thought we competed so hard this season. We had lots of ups and downs this season. We’re a young team, we’ve got something to build on.”
The Stars took the lead 5:16 into the game just seconds after killing off Anaheim’s first power play of the night. As Shawn Horcoff cleared the puck out of the Dallas zone, Trevor Daley came out of the penalty box, got to the loose puck and beat Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen on a breakaway.
The Stars extended the lead to 2-0, cashing in on their first power play of the night. Tyler Seguin set up Eakin, who scored from the slot at the 10:27 mark of the first period.
Anaheim took advantage of its second power play chance to cut the Stars’ lead to 2-1 late in the first period. Smith-Pelly scored from close range with 2:03 left in the first.
But the Stars answered a little more than a minute later when Daley put a shot on net from the point and Garbutt scored during the ensuing scramble to make it a 3-1 game with 58.1 seconds left in the first period.
The Ducks scored 3:55 into the second to make it a 3-2 game. Teemu Selanne set up Ben Lovejoy, who beat Lehtonen with a blast from the right point.
The Stars didn’t have a shot on goal in the second until the 10:33 mark, and they made it count. With the two teams playing four-on-four, Daley blew by Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa on the rush and then beat Andersen from close range to make it a 4-2 game.
“Spectacular,” Ruff said of Daley’s play in the game. “He really brought his A game. How often do you see a (defenseman) score two breakaways? He defended against the best players in the league all year and offensively he was really coming on. He was a machine with the number of minutes he was playing.”
That goal ended the night for Andersen, who was replaced by Jonas Hiller after allowing four goals on 12 shots. Hiller stopped all 12 shots he faced the rest of the way.
“He played great,” said Boudreau. “There is no doubt about it. He’s come in twice in this series and hasn’t given up a goal in over three periods. It’s the stuff we knew he could do.”
Hiller’s play kept the Ducks in the game, and helped set the stage for the Ducks’ rally and then Bonino’s overtime winner.
"We knew this wasn't going to be a four game series,” said Bonino. “You have a team over there that you have to tip your cap to because they are a great team. They came at us and they gave us trouble in the regular season and we knew going into this series that we were going to have a hard time. They've got world class players and they have guys that did a great job of frustrating us and they're a great team.”
The Stars frustrated the Ducks at times, but it was a frustrating way to end the season and one the Stars hope they can learn from moving forward.
“It’s a tough one to swallow,” said Daley. “We felt there were a good three games that we probably had opportunities to win. It wasn’t just tonight. You want to learn from it. We’ve got a young team. We’ve got to move forward.”
“They brought the best they could possibly bring tonight,” said Ruff. “And I told them, and I’ll say it again, I was damn proud of the way they played. I was proud of the way they competed. It’s a fun team to coach, it really is. Embrace this because we got some good players that are pushing through. My job now is to make them understand how hard it is to repeat it and to get better.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.