The biggest storyline before Dallas and Anaheim met in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs was the youth and inexperience of the Stars.
However, that young and inexperienced eighth-seeded team took the top-seeded Ducks to six games, with two dominating performances in Dallas, resulting in quick maturation.
“I trusted every one of them,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said. “We have a system that we play, and they know how to play in it.”
However, it was that same inexperience that did the Stars in at the conclusion of Game 6 and, in turn, the end of the Stars’ season. Anaheim scored two goals late in regulation and scored early in overtime to eliminate the Stars on Sunday night at the American Airlines Center.
It began at the 17:34 mark of the third period when, after a scrum to push the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen, Ducks center Andrew Cogliano and Stars forward Alex Chiasson separated from the pack and dropped their gloves in an attempt to fight.
The result was a minor penalty assessed to both players, which, when Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau pulled goalie Jonas Hiller, allowed the Ducks to have a 5-on-4 power play in which the Stars could not ice the puck.
Sixteen seconds later, Nick Bonino netted his first of the game, which brought the Ducks within one 4-3.
“They just got goaded into a little of a penalty at the end, which is tough,” Ruff said. “That’s a learning experience. That’s a young mistake. That’s all it is.”
After the game Chiasson said he was still a little confused why both players were given minor penalties when both dropped the gloves in an effort to fight.
“Our last two-goal lead, it was a big advantage for them to get the four-on-four call there with two guys dropping the gloves,” he said.
After another Ducks goal to tie the game, Dallas faced another new playoff situation — sudden death overtime.
While the youth of the Stars provided a burst of energy in the series, especially at home, it had been prone for the occasional slip-up throughout the season.
And it happened again.
Early in overtime, the team’s defensive shape shifted to the right of the goal as the Ducks cycled the puck behind Lehtonen’s net, eventually finding an open Bonino in the slot. Bonino had a half-empty goal to put the series away.
Most of the Stars players sat shocked in the locker room after Game 6, unable to fully process what had just happened — dropping a two-goal lead that would have forced a Game 7 to lose in overtime.
“It’s a great platform to push off of. My job is to make them understand how difficult it really is,” Ruff said. “We’ve set our bar at a certain level and now we have to push above that. That takes incredible work ethic. It’s hard to get in the playoffs.”
Ruff said the near future is bright for his team.
“I told them, and I’ll say it again, I was proud of the way they played,” Ruff said. “I was proud of the way they competed. It’s a fun team to coach. Embrace this because we’ve got some good players that are pushing through. My job now is to make them understand how hard it is to repeat it and to get better.”