In between Games 4 and 5 of the Stars opening-round series with Minnesota, Lindy Ruff was asked about his goaltending situation.
The hockey world could not imagine why a team with a 2-1 series lead would make a change in net when their goaltender had a 1.69 GAA and a .931 save percentage. So one more time, he was asked to defend his decision.
"I'm tired of explaining our two goalie thing," Ruff replied. "But it's been working for us."
Welcome to the Dallas Stars season. If you haven't been watching all year long - and truthfully, even if you have - it doesn't always follow conventional thinking. But like Ruff said, it's been working.
The Stars spent the majority of the season in first place, yet they still shuffled their lineup regularly. A total of 31 different players suited up for Dallas. The team started games with nearly 50 different line combinations throughout the year. That doesn't even include others based on mid-game adjustments. Centers shifted to wing. Guys on the left would move to the right and vice versa. Depending on the night, sometimes you'd play both.
As for the goalies Lindy is always asked about, six different times this season a goaltender was sat down while riding a three-plus game point streak (wins or OT/shootout loss). The starting goaltender was pulled nine times this season. NINE. That's 11% of the season. In seven of those games, the move was made in the first 21 minutes. Remember that the majority of this happened while the Stars were in first place.
Ruff has been pushing buttons like a mad scientist all season. Most of the time favorable results followed.
When the Stars made the much-debated move to change netminders against Minnesota, some pointed out that five other playoff teams had also employed two goaltenders this postseason. However, in all five cases the team was either trailing in the series, or an injury was involved.
Not the Stars. Nope, they were winning and healthy. It was just time for a move. So, what happened when Dallas turned to a 10-day rested Antti Niemi for his first playoff game in two years?
Exactly what was supposed to.
Niemi was brilliant, stopping 28 of 30, leading Dallas to a win and a 3-1 series lead. After an OT loss in Game 5, it was back to Kari for the series-clinching win the next game. It's just how things work around here. If you haven't noticed by now, the Stars do things differently.
In a league that is constantly trying to reel-in, the Stars give the freedom to make plays. In fact, it's demanded. Take late game situations as an example. When protecting late leads against a team with an empty net, coaches everywhere preach the importance of not icing the puck. The "right" play is to chip it out and keep the clock moving. It has always been that way.
Not in Dallas. Lindy wants his players going for the kill shot from anywhere they get a clean look. If you're wondering how that strategy worked out, the Stars set an NHL record with 24 empty net goals this year. They also only gave up a single extra attacker goal all season. So, it worked pretty well, you could say.
Still, on a national broadcast during the final minute of Game 6, analysts lamented the Stars decision to ice the puck multiple times in such a crucial situation as long range shot attempts went wide. Those are the types of costly mistakes that could sink Dallas, we are told.
That's the thing about these Stars. They have their formula. It has worked for seven months and they are not about to change now. It might not be the typical formula, or even your preferred one. It might not feel common or safe. But it's the one that led them to the top of the Western Conference, and the one they will ride as far as they can this postseason.
Dallas won the best division in the NHL this year playing like this. They just won a playoff series the same way. Look at the postseason a little closer and it's all very similar.
The Stars went 2-1 at home and 2-1 on the road. They scored 3.5 goals per game. They allowed 2.8 against. The big names led the way, with Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza finishing the round first and second in playoff scoring. They also got depth scoring with 11 total Stars scoring goals in the series. They overcame injuries, and relied on key young players. They bent but didn't break. Starting to sound familiar?
They won games different ways, by scores of 4-0, 2-1, 3-2, and 5-4. They lost 5-3 and 5-4. No lead was insurmountable, regardless of which team had it. They showcased their best and their worst attributes - sometimes in the same game. They made plays. They also made mistakes. In the end though, they overcame them. The Stars never trailed in the series, but still iced five different lineups in six games.
And, of course, both goaltenders played.
The whole series was a microcosm of the season. Yet, for all the numbers and storylines that mirrored one another, the biggest was this. The Stars won two-thirds of their games. That exactly matches their conference-best .665 points percentage from the regular season.
It's possible to question how the Stars go about their business. Many do. But it's impossible to question their results. They won in the regular season, and they just won again in the playoffs. They're happy to keep marching forward to a beat no one else understands. Some say their style can't keep working. The reality, however, is that by the time the Stars take the ice again on Friday, they will be one of only eight teams left with a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
This is Stars hockey. In all its splendor. It's where trends get bucked. Where Art Ross Trophy winners kill penalties. Where mid-season rookie call-ups take the most important faceoffs. Where the record versus playoff teams is better than the one against teams that missed. Where Ales Hemsky protects one goal leads (and does it terrifically). Where you'll find the most entertaining product the sport has to offer. And where they win a lot more than they don't.
Welcome to the Dallas Stars. Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times, and enjoy the ride.
The Stars and St. Louis Blues will meet in the playoffs for the first time since 2001 for the right to advance to the Western Conference Finals. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' before the series kicks off:
The second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is uncharted waters for over half the Stars team. Fourteen of the 25 players on the roster have never been past the first round. Additionally, this will be the first trip since 2006 for Ales Hemsky, and first since 2010 for Alex Goligoski. As an organization, this is the first trip to the second round for the Stars since 2008. Not a single player on the current Stars roster was on the last Dallas team to make it out of the first round. Ironically though, there will be one in the series, with longtime Stars forward Steve Ott playing for St. Louis.
If this season's history is any indicator, the Stars-Blues series should be a thriller. Dallas and St. Louis finished the regular season second and third, respectively in the NHL overall standings. They were separated by only two points, decided on the final day of the season. They also played some of the best hockey down the stretch of the season. Including the regular season and playoffs, the Stars are 13-4 and the Blues are 12-5 in their last 17 games. Those also rank as the NHL's second and third best records over that span. In the five-game head-to-head series this year, three games went to overtime and both teams earned a 3-0 shutout win in the others. Not counting overtime or shootout goals, both teams scored ten regulation goals in the series.
Jamie Benn has continued to cement his reputation as a premier big-game player this postseason. Benn was the only player in the opening round to register points in every game of his series. He also leads the NHL in playoff scoring with ten points. He has already captured an Olympic gold medal, World Championship title, World Junior gold medal, WHL Championship, and been to the Calder Cup Finals in the AHL. This is Benn's second time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 12 career NHL postseason games, Benn has 15 points, and has at least a point in all but one of them.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on ‘Stars Live’ and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.