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Stars Hope to Make Most of Home-ice Advantage

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Stanley Cup Playoffs come to Dallas for the first time since 2008, and the Stars are hoping to make the most of the opportunity. After the Ducks held serve by winning the first two games in Anaheim to take a 2-0 series lead, the Stars are hoping to get back in it at American Airlines Center starting Monday night.

“It means a lot [to play at home],” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “It’s been a while since we’ve played a playoff game [at home] and we’ve got a chance to get right back in this series.”

That last playoff game at home was May 19, 2008 against Detroit. The Stars are expecting the AAC to be rocking Monday night and for the team to feed off the energy in the building where they have played well this season, especially late in the season as they made a strong push to secure a playoff spot.

“I think players really embrace it. Fans have been tremendous down the stretch,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I think what really typified it was the Modano night where you end up coming back and winning a game like that on home ice and you feel that electricity in the building. I think again tomorrow, our fans are getting a playoff treat and our players are getting an opportunity to play in front of them, and I think as much as our players got to see the energy in Anaheim’s building, we’ll get to embrace that energy in our building.”

The Stars were 8-1-1 over their last 10 games at American Airlines Center, 10-2-1 in their final 13 and 13-3-2 at the AAC since January 21. A win Monday night and the series looks a lot different. It would be 2-1, the Stars would have momentum and a Game 4 in Dallas Wednesday night.

“We’re excited for tomorrow. We’ve got a chance to win a hockey game and make the series 2-1,” Benn said after Sunday’s practice in Frisco. “I thought we’ve played some pretty good hockey, just not good enough. We’ve got to go that extra step and find a way to win.”

Finding a way to win will mean cleaning up some execution issues. Mistakes have been costly so far in the series, and the Stars want to limit those and capitalize on Anaheim miscues.

“I think you look at that you’ve got to take advantage of them. There are going to be some in the game,” said Ruff. “They’ve taken advantage of some of our key mistakes. There are going to be mistakes in the game. You’re not going to clean up every one. We’d like to keep them to a minimum, though.”

Taking advantage of opportunities has been an issue in the series. In the 3-2 loss in Game 2, they had 36 shots on goal and missed the net on 25 other shot attempts.

“It’s bearing down,” said Stars center Tyler Seguin. “We’ve got to find ways to be able to get those second chances and sometimes more drive the net and getting those rebounds and getting those opportunities.”

“It’s getting to the net and making it hard to see those first shots and finding ways to get second ones. That’s the way you score goals in the playoffs and that’s what we need to do,” said forward Colton Sceviour. “When you get one of those big chances you have to think you might not get another one. That’s the mentality we need right from the drop of the puck.”

The Stars want to make life tougher on Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen, who has stopped 66 of 71 shots in the first two games of the series.

“I don’t think we’ve overly tested him. I think we’ve had some good opportunities. We hit him in the crest a couple times. We missed the net on too many good opportunities,” said Ruff. “I can give you Benner, Segy, Val [Nichushkin], all walking in point blank and missing the net. I don’t think that’s a situation where we’ve forced him into a big save or even the first one and a second one. But I don’t think he’s made a lot of mistakes, which puts him in the good category.”

And then there are the power play opportunities. The Stars are 2-11 in the series and they scored another one just after a power play expired, so the numbers aren’t bad. The issue has been on the timing. The Stars haven’t been able to turn the power play into a difference maker in the first two games, failing to score the big goal at the crucial time.

“I really think simplify it. Our second opportunities weren’t there. We passed up some opportunities just to get pucks to the net,” said Ruff. “Power play, sometimes, when a team gets to study you it is tough. We’ve got to do a better job on retrievals and second opportunities.”

“Obviously there’s room for improvement,” said Stars center Tyler Seguin. “With playoff hockey there’s so much studying of video. You’re going to run into ups and down in the power play and penalty kill. We’ve got to regroup here. We’ve got to find ways to dictate scoring opportunities and get those big goals.”

Whatever the formula, the Stars have to find a way to win Game 3. They took a step forward from Game 1 to Game 2. Now they’ll look to take a bigger step forward on Monday.

“Just by focusing on the next game. We wanted to be better than the first game and we were better than the first game,” said Ruff. “We got our emotions in check. I thought we skated better. We had a lot of more of the play in the offensive zone. Our possession time was a lot better. So you build off of that and you just try to get better. I think that we’ve got a lot of players that have been able to experience some playoff hockey. Now it’s doing a couple things a little bit better, a little bit more desperation, maybe a few more blocks, harder around the front of the net. I still think some of the 50-50 battles were theirs. They’ve got to be ours.”

Dillon skates, not expected to play Monday

Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon, who has missed the first two games of the series with a lower body injury, skated briefly before Sunday’s practice in Frisco. He is not expected to play Monday.

“He skated this morning for just a short period of time. Better,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “He may have a chance to skate with the team tomorrow. We’re advancing, but he won’t be ready to play.”

Ducks watch

The Ducks can put a stranglehold on the series with a win Monday night, and they know the Stars are going to come out with a strong push and a lot of desperation in the game.

“It is a big game,” said Ducks defenseman Stephane Robidas. “They always say, it sounds cliché, but Game 1, 3, 5 , 7, they are all pivotal. It’s really important. It’s different being 2-1 than 3-0. I think for us, we need a good start. They’re going to come out really hard. They came out really strong in the last game. We have to be ready for their push.”

And Robidas and the Ducks know the atmosphere in the building is going to provide a major boost to the Stars as well.

“We have to come out strong,” Robidas said. “It’s been five years and the fans here are going to be pumped,” said Robidas. “Everyone will be wearing Victory Green. It’s going to be a really good atmosphere.”

The Ducks have some areas they’d like to improve on for Game 3. They’d like a better start and a better finish than the last game, especially the start.

“We have to play with the puck a little bit better,” said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. “I thought that last game we turned it over a little bit more than we’re used to and we let them come at us at the start of the game as opposed to starting on time. That is kind of our main focus is to get going here at the drop of the puck.”

Cutting down on penalties is another. They’ve put the Stars on the power play 11 times over the first two games of the series.

“We haven’t been that disciplined,” said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. “We’ve taken 11 penalties in two games, which is far more than our average. We were at about three penalties a game in the regular season. We’ve got to be more under self-control. They’ll be pretty ramped up.”

The Ducks made some roster moves Sunday, calling up forward Emerson Etem from Norfolk of the AHL and assigning goaltender John Gibson and defenseman Sami Vatanen to Norfolk. Defenseman Mark Fistric returned to the Ducks from a conditioning assignment.

Series Schedule

(Anaheim leads series 2-0)

Game 1: Wed, April 16, Dallas at Anaheim: Ducks 4, Stars 3

Game 2: Fri, April 18, Dallas at Anaheim: Ducks 3, Stars 2

Game 3: Mon, April 21, Anaheim at Dallas, 8:30 p.m., TXA 21/NBC Sports Network/TSN

Game 4: Wed, April 23, Anaheim at Dallas, 7 p.m., Fox Sports Southwest/CNBC/TSN

*Game 5: Fri, April 25, Dallas at Anaheim, 9:30 p.m., Fox Sports Southwest/NBC Sports Network/TSN

*Game 6: Sun, April 27, Anaheim at Dallas, TBD, Fox Sports Southwest/TSN

*Game7: Tue, April 29, Dallas at Anaheim, TBD, Fox Sports Southwest/TSN

*If necessary

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 reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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