For the Dallas Stars, Stanley Cup playoff hockey is a good time.
Even someone as cherished as forward Rich Peverley, who saw his season end when he suffered a cardiac event March 10 on the bench, can be the butt of a joke after throwing on skates and gloves to help his fellow center icemen in the faceoff circle.
“We’re working hard with Rich to make sure that when the pucks get in the corner that they are in a neat pile,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff joked when asked about Peverley’s newfound role. “He’s struggled with that the first couple of days. Sometimes he’s been slow to the piles. The term we use is Volcanized Rubber Management. We want him to manage that pile of pucks better.”
Every joke uttered by Ruff since the Stars tied their opening-round series against the Anaheim Ducks has been fuel for smiles and good times in the Stars’ locker room. Dallas beat top seed Anaheim 4-2 Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center to tie their first-round series 2-2.
Ruff said he hopes that fun carries over to Game 5 on Friday night in Southern California.
“It’s contagious,” Ruff said. “I want to see that. I want to see team unity. I want to see five guys celebrating. I don’t want four. I don’t want three. I want to see five guys in those pileups. Be excited to play at this time of year.”
The X-factor between the fun and success the Stars had over the past two games and the first two is the home crowd. But most of the Stars believe this is a different team than the young, inexperienced one that fell behind in the first period of Game 1 because of tentative play.
“We’re a little experienced,” forward Tyler Seguin said. “We’ve felt what it feels like to lose, and I think the most important thing is we’ve felt what it’s like to win a playoff game, especially the guys that haven’t been in the playoffs before. It’s a great feeling. It’s a taste that you like in your mouth.”
In the short turnaround, Ruff still wants to see his team crash the net better and will their way into the difficult, but high percentage, scoring areas.
Also looming is whether Ducks captain and forward Ryan Getzlaf will play after missing Game 4 because of an upper body injury, and how the Stars will adjust their lines either way.
Ruff, however, said he cares the most about his team’s will to win, level of competition and, at this time of year, the fun they are having on and off the ice.
Thursday, as the team prepared to leave again for Anaheim, things remained loose, even if it’s jokingly at the expense of Peverley.
“Most the time I use his [Peverley] gloves. In practice, he’s breaking in gloves for me, and I’m going out there and using them in the games,” Seguin said with a laugh.
Ruff said that defensemen Brenden Dillon (lower body injury) and Patrik Nemeth (undisclosed injury) are game-time decisions, which is as close as Dillon has been to seeing playing time in this series to date. Dillon hasn’t played since April 11.
“If I’m going to be in, I want to be able to help the team,” Dillon said. “Things are getting better and better and I’m keeping tabs with the doctors and the medical staff.”
Nemeth was injured early in Game 4 and did not return.