For the first time in six years, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will return to Dallas.
With a 3-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Friday at the American Airlines Center, the Stars clinched the final playoff spot, the second wild-card berth, over Phoenix.
As the Stars celebrated in the locker room after breaking their franchise-record playoff drought, no one could have appreciated the moment more than Stars defenseman Trevor Daley, the only remaining player from the Stars’ last playoff appearance in 2008.
As he stood in his locker, celebratory cowboy hat on his head given by the players to the MVP of the game, he did everything he could to express his emotion after taking a puck to the face in Wednesday’s game that required 20 stitches.
“I’m having trouble smiling and I just can’t stop smiling,” Daley said. “We’ve got a fun group in here. We’ve got a special group in here. We’ve got a mix of old and young, and I think everybody got a chance to step up and play tonight and be a big part of it.”
Daley did everything he could to have another go at a Staley Cup on Friday, including scoring the Stars’ first goal that turned out to be the game-winner.
Almost six minutes into the game, Daley swiped the puck from St. Louis at the Stars’ blue line and turned on the jets on a breakaway that ended with a backhand shot that sent the puck into the top of the net.
“I don’t have any moves in mind,” Daley said of the breakaway chance. “I go in in a clear mind. If I go in thinking about it, it’s not going to turn out good for me.”
Blues forward and former Stars captain Steve Ott recognized the accomplishment after the game, despite his disappointment in the loss.
“Well, yeah. Yeah, I’m happy for Trevor as a friend, but I would have been happier to put them out of the playoffs to be honest with you because that’s what happens when you get moved on and you’re not wanted anymore in a situation,” Ott said. “It’s something that they’re a good team, and we might have to play them in playoffs, so you always have a chance in this league to do good things, and tonight they had a big accomplishment in making the playoffs.”
After the initial blood was drawn, there was no looking back for the Stars.
Dallas took control in the second period, outshooting St. Louis 21-6 and scoring a second goal on the power play. Daley, after saving a puck at the point, dished to forward Jamie Benn in the corner, who needled a pass across the crease to an open Tyler Seguin in the opposite corner. Seguin connected on the shot.
The Stars added their third goal in the third period on a slapshot from the point by defenseman Alex Goligoski that was deflected in front of the net by forward Ryan Garbutt, 4 minutes into the final frame.
Dallas outshot St. Louis 40-22 in Kari Lehtonen’s fifth shutout of the season.
The only negative for the Stars was the early departure of defenseman Brenden Dillon with a lower-body injury. Coach Lindy Ruff said Dillon was day-to-day.
The Stars close out the regular season Sunday in Phoenix, but this time the team knows the work that has been done and five empty years are over.
“We definitely earned this,” Benn said.