The Dallas Stars notched their first win in the Stanley Cup playoffs by defeating the Anaheim Ducks 3-0 Monday night at American Airlines Center while cutting their best-of-seven series deficit to 2-1.
But there were several other important firsts for an organization that has spent years trying to rediscover its identity.
The game opened to the waving towels of 19,120 strong, a sellout, and a fan base that has waited for playoff hockey in Dallas for six years.
“I think you could tell they’ve been waiting for a playoff game,” said coach Lindy Ruff, in his first home playoff game at the Stars helm. “They got a playoff game and they got a game they liked and they had something they could cheer about. It was a tremendous night atmosphere-wise.”
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Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen received the loudest cheers from the fan base during starting lineup announcements and proceeded to answer the applause with his best playoff game.
Not only did the netminder record his first win in five attempts, but it was also his first playoff shutout in a game that his team needed him the most.
Dallas killed six Anaheim power plays, during which Lehtonen was the key factor, defenseman Trevor Daley said.
“It feels good, but at the age of 30 it was about time to get that first one,” Lehtonen said. “It was nice to be able to be back there and help the team out. That’s what I have to keep doing.”
Lehtonen was forced into action 37 times, warding off all 37 attempts.
Dallas’ last playoff shutout came on April 10, 2008 when Marty Turco blanked the same Ducks organization in Anaheim.
The Stars’ penalty kill created the first scoring chance when forward Jamie Benn, fresh out of the penalty box, collected a rebound of a Shawn Horcoff shot and found the back of an empty net as Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen attempted to push across the crease.
The goal was Benn’s second in this young playoff run and first game-winning playoff goal of his career.
“He’s been our horse the whole year,” Daley said. “We expect him to do that. Tonight he was a horse and we jumped on him and rode him.”
Next on the score sheet was 19-year-old rookie forward Valeri Nichushkin, who buried a slap shot between Andersen’s pads, recording his first career playoff goal with three minutes remaining in the second period.
“He’s had a lot of opportunities, even the other night in Anaheim,” Ruff said. “He had a great opportunity where he missed the net. Tonight, I thought he had real good opportunities and scored on one of them.”
The Stars’ biggest consistency in a game of new experiences was its second line, featuring wingers Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel and center Cody Eakin, Ruff said.
Garbutt capped the Stars’ scoring by netting a secondary rebound with 13 minutes left in the game.
“They really skated well and it was a bonus in there for them to score a big goal for us,” Ruff said.
The only disappointment for the Stars and their fans Monday was watching former defenseman Stephane Robidas suffer another broken right leg in his first game back in Dallas since the trade deadline deal that sent him to the Ducks.
“It’s obviously upsetting,” an emotional Daley said. “Steph’s a warrior. It’s tough. We want to beat them with Robi in there.”