Stars coach Lindy Ruff said after Friday’s playoff-clinching win that he would enjoy the accomplishment the rest of the night and then start zeroing in on postseason preparation. But Ruff was still enjoying the Stars’ accomplishment Saturday morning, and so was everybody else in the organization.
“For me it is just looking at everybody in the organization, people that have been here and suffered through some tough finishes. It’s just seeing the smile on everybody’s faces, there’s a smile on mine, but just looking around and enjoying the fact that these guys have been around here working for years,” Ruff said. “They’ve worked hard, from some of the players to Dales (Trevor Daley) and Lehts (Kari Lehtonen), and they are finally getting the opportunity for putting the work in. That’s the part I am enjoying the most this morning.”
Along with all the smiles and high spirits on Saturday, there was a lot of pride in what the Stars were able to do during the regular season. GM Jim Nill had praise for both the players and Ruff and the coaching staff.
“I’m proud of the guys. I am happy for the guys. They‘ve put a lot of work in,” Nill said. “It’s the same with the coaching staff. It’s been a combination of the coaching staff getting the players to buy into the way they wanted them to play, and the players buying into that and the hard work they’ve put into it. They got rewarded and they deserved to be rewarded.”
The Stars haven’t been in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2008, and Daley is the only player left from that squad. It’s been a long five-year drought, and a long, tough season to get to the postseason tournament.
“We’ve been at it for 82 games, waiting for this time,” Daley said. “Finally it’s here and we get to enjoy the moment for a couple days. I think we get Monday off and then Tuesday it is preparing and getting ready for whoever it may be. Then she’s a go. It’s good times.”
Lehtonen played in the 2007 playoffs with the Atlanta Thrashers, but this will be his first trip to the playoffs with the Stars. Lehtonen was part smile and part game face on Saturday.
“It’s special, but the work continues,” he said. “We need to keep going. We need to not think about what happened in the past, but look to the future.”
While there’s been a lot of talk about the Stars not making the playoffs since 2008, it’s been even longer for veteran forward Shawn Horcoff. The 35-year-old hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2006, when he made it to the Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, who lost in Game 7 to Carolina.
“Fantastic. It’s been too long,” Horcoff said. “When you are young, and I don’t want to say dumb, you feel like years and years are ahead of you. You make it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and you think you are going to be back the very next year. Seven years later I am finally getting a second chance at it. As much as I know the guys in here talked about wanting to get back after five long years, I understand their pain, but maybe a little bit more because I was this close at that time.”
The Stars will face either Anaheim or Colorado in the first round of the playoffs. The Stars, as the second wild card, face the top seed in the Western Conference, which is the division winner with the best record.
The Ducks currently hold that position and can clinch it with a point in either of their final two games (at Los Angeles Saturday/vs. Colorado Sunday). Colorado would be the top seed if the Ducks lose in regulation to the Kings on Saturday and then the Avalanche defeat the Ducks in regulation on Sunday.
The Stars will start on the road either Wednesday or Thursday. The playoff schedule will be released after the regular season concludes on Sunday.
Regular season finale Sunday
The Stars play their final regular season game at Phoenix Sunday. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said he expects his team to play hard, but to keep in mind that this game has no bearing on the standings.
“We want to play and we want to play hard, but we don’t want anybody to get hurt,” said Ruff. “We don’t want to overplay anybody. I am not going to put a lot into the game from the standpoint that if somebody is not in the shot lane – I’ve asked a lot from these guys over the past six weeks and they’ve given me all they have – but I am not going to be screaming at somebody why weren’t you in the shot lane. They will be anyway, so it really doesn’t matter.”
The Stars recalled forward Chris Mueller from the Texas Stars of the AHL Saturday. He is expected to play Sunday so the Stars can rest another forward. Aaron Rome and Kevin Connauton likely will play as well.
“We’ve had several guys taking days off for maintenance, we’ll evaluate who is the worst of all those guys and give them some time off,” Ruff said. “That goes for the same with the backend. A couple of guys that haven’t played are going to play. One of our top two will not play because they have been logging some serious minutes.”
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.