Friday was fan appreciation night at American Airlines Center and the Dallas Stars made it a special night for the sellout crowd of 18,532, clinching a playoff spot with a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Blues.
“It means a lot,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “Every kid dreams of playing in the playoffs and trying to win a Stanley Cup. I believe we’ve got a great group in here that can do some damage. We earned it tonight.”
The trip to the postseason is the first for the Stars since 2008, when they made it to the Western Conference Finals.
“It’s a great feeling,” said defenseman Trevor Daley, the only player still around from that 2008 playoff team. “We’ve been battling hard. We’ve been battling hard for a long time. “
The Stars’ first round opponent will be either the Anaheim Ducks or the Colorado Avalanche. The playoffs will start for the Stars on either Wednesday or Thursday.
The Stars rolled out an impressive performance to clinch the playoff spot, outshooting the Blues 40-22, including 30-13 over the last two periods.
It was one of the best games this team has played in front of me and they didn’t give much,” said Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who stopped 22 shots for his fifth shutout of the season. “It was probably 25 minutes in the later part of the game that I didn’t face a shot and that’s sometimes hard, but it helped that we kept scoring and it was just a good game overall.”
After a scoreless first period, the Stars took control of the game in the second, outshooting the Blues 21-6 and getting goals from Daley and Tyler Seguin to take a 2-0 lead. The Stars extended the lead to 3-0 early in the third on a goal by Ryan Garbutt and then put the clamps on the Blues, holding them to just one shot on the goal for the first 17:30 of the period.
“I am so damn happy. Our team played awesome,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “I was worried that we were a little tight to start the game but man did we start to skate and did we start to compete. I know they were missing quite a few of their top bodies but you still have to play well. … I’ve got to give my club credit for putting up the battle they did. When we had the chance to put them down, we put them down and we took advantage of a team that had seven or eight of their players out of the lineup.”
The only down note for the Stars was they lost defenseman Brenden Dillon to a lower body injury during the game. He is listed as day to day.
It was the fifth straight loss for the Blues, who were missing several top forwards and then lost another one, Patrik Berglund, late in the game.
“Our goalie was great for us and it was really good to see,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “Off the back-to-back, we had some tired legs as the game went on. First period was a good period and then I thought we got on tired legs and really had a difficult time.”
The Stars had a 10-9 shots advantage in a scoreless first period. They had some good looks on two power plays, but were unable to cash in. St. Louis came close late in the period, but an Alexander Steen shot from the left circle hit the crossbar.
The Stars had some great pressure early in the second and scored to take a 1-0 lead when a puck bounced off Jamie Benn’s skate and into the neutral zone, Daley won a race to the loose puck, broke in on the St. Louis net and beat Blues goaltender Ryan Miller with a backhand shot at the 5:52 mark.
“A little bit of disbelief that I was on a breakaway,” Daley said. “I noticed the two guys kind of collided. 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.”
Lehtonen kept it a 1-0 game with a sharp save on Chris Porter at the 9:15 mark of the second and less than three minutes later the Stars extended their lead to 2-0 with a power play goal. Benn sent a cross-ice pass to Seguin, who scored from the left circle at 11:58 of the second.
“The pass itself was hard enough to catch but to shoot it from that angle and to hit that part of the net was an incredible shot by Tyler and a great set-up by [Benn],” said Ruff. “It was a big goal for us.”
The Stars were all over the Blues to open the third and they extended the lead to 3-0 when Garbutt tipped an Alex Goligoski point shot past Miller 4:27 into the frame.
“The bench was elated because it provided us breathing room,” said Ruff. “We hadn’t had a lot of room to breathe.”
The Blues first shot of the third didn’t come until 7:50 into the period and it was a quality chance by forward Ty Rattie that Lehtonen turned it away. The next Blues shot came more than ten minutes later with time running down and the Stars closing in on that playoff spot.
“It feels good to get this win. I thought our team played great tonight. We definitely earned this,” said Benn. “We believed in each other. We believe in each other all year. We just played a great game tonight.”
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.