Dallas Stars: Dallas Stars


New team, new city, new country, new school, new house, but luckily for Jason Spezza, at least one same linemate who ended the campaign with him in Ottawa last season.

Don't underestimate the importance of having Ales Hemsky on his right side as Spezza adjusts to playing for an NHL team other than the Ottawa Senators for the first time in his career.

"That's probably been the biggest thing so far," Spezza told ESPN.com on Tuesday from Dallas. "When you make such a big change, everything is new, except for the fact I'm playing with Hemmer still. It's really been a blessing to have a guy that I feel familiar with."

Spezza and Hemsky hit up an instant chemistry late last season after the Senators got the Czech winger in a trade from Edmonton. Ironically, it's because of that chemistry that Sens GM Bryan Murray was hoping to bring Hemsky back to play with Spezza. That was before learning that Spezza wanted out.
[+] EnlargeJason Spezza
Glenn James/NHLI/Getty ImagesJason Spezza is looking forward to suiting up for the high-flying Stars.


Hemsky instead followed Spezza to Dallas, giving the Stars a tantalizing one-two punch on their top two lines with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top unit with sophomore Valeri Nichushkin. Erik Cole will likely begin the season complementing Spezza and Hemsky.

Questions remain as far as how this team will defend. But scoring goals? That should not be a problem.

"I think we can be a dynamic offensive team," Spezza said. "The fit is really good for me that way. [Head coach] Lindy [Ruff] wants us to play up-tempo, pressuring the puck, stuff that I'm comfortable doing. I think we're a team that can give other teams headaches nightly if we can take care of the puck in our end. Once we get on the attack, there aren't many teams that might be better than us that way."

For Spezza, it all lines up beautifully. After years of always drawing the toughest matchup from the other team as far as the top defense pair or the top checking line, he'll at least share that chore with Benn-Seguin, if not benefit most nights as other teams pick their poison and likely match up their best with Benn-Seguin.

Plus, the style of play Ruff wants to use suits Spezza just nicely.

"I really like the way Lindy wants us to play," Spezza said. "I think it really suits my game. The way he coaches is something that fits my game naturally. It's a nice starting point for sure."

According to a Western Conference scout, it could turn out to be a good fit, given the strengths of the teams out west.

"He is a big-body center, which helps in the Western Conference against the Getzlafs, Kopitars, Thorntons," the scout wrote in an email to ESPN.com. "He gives them a veteran presence for a young group, allows Ruff the ability to move Seguin's line around, [to] pack more offensive punch, which takes some pressure off Seguin ... . [He] will help balance their lineup and put guys into the right fits [and] is familiar with few players in that lineup, which helps. [He] has been a strong faceoff guy in Ottawa. [The] Stars' power play was just middle of the pack, so he can help that push upward in that category. He might just flourish with less pressure and [on a] non-Canadian team where the focus has been on him since day 1."

All in all, it should mean an increase in offensive productivity from Spezza, who tallied 66 points (23-43) in 75 games last season. Take the over this season on that point total.

And it just so happens he's in a contract year.

He would easily be the headliner next July 1 on what is otherwise a rather thin UFA crop when it comes to high-end talent, but whether or not he actually gets there, well, that remains to be seen.

The Stars intend on having Spezza hang around longer than one season.

"They've expressed that they want to talk [extension]," Spezza said. "And we have all intentions of talking. But it's just I want to get comfortable first, and get started. It's really not a big concern of mine right now. I'm not naive, I know as the season goes on it'll become more of a talking point. But at this point, I'm just worried about playing and getting comfortable. If we start winning games, it's going to be a good fit for both sides. It's just a matter of getting comfortable first. There's no point in rushing into anything."

Getting comfortable means off-ice, too. He's got kids ages 4, 2 and 4 months old. They moved into their house in Dallas in late August to begin their new life away from Canada's capital.

"I say it's been a pretty smooth transition, although it's my wife that's done most of the work," Spezza, 31, said with a chuckle. "We're settled. The kids are in school. Everyone is getting comfortable."

After years in the spotlight in hockey-crazed Ottawa, it's clear that Spezza appreciates the quiet life he's entering.

"It's been nice to come to the rink and work and nobody knows me here," he said. "It's been nice that way. We've enjoyed it."

Don't get him wrong -- he would never take back his years in Ottawa. But the time was right for a move.

"Ottawa is a great place to play, I really enjoyed playing in Canada and the scrutiny that came with it," Spezza said. "But you almost don't realize how much you go through day to day until you get away from it. You realize how much more laid-back it can be in another setting. I wouldn't change it, but I'm welcoming the change right now."

And so are the Stars.

Dallas Stars: Making noise in Texas

September, 24, 2014
9/24/14
11:43
AM CT
The Dallas Stars are unquestionably the sexy pick to make some (more?) noise in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. A breakthrough season last year saw Tyler Seguin light it up offensively, Jamie Benn reinforce his position as one of the top young leaders in the game and the Stars sneak into the eighth seed in the West and give Anaheim all it could handle before fading in Game 6 of the opening round.

General manager Jim Nill has done yeoman service in landing two top-end centers in a little over a year, acquiring disgruntled former Ottawa captain Jason Spezza (and a winger for Spezza in Ales Hemsky) to take some pressure off Seguin, suggesting the Stars are indeed built to last at least offensively in the Central.

Seguin joked in a recent interview that he thinks other NHL teams are giving Nill good players because he's such a nice guy.

"He's the ultimate hockey guy that I've met in this business," Seguin said of his boss.

Defensively? Hmm. Well that's more a work in progress, but this is a team that looks poised to shake off years of mediocrity that stunted the franchise's growth in the heart of Texas.

You can read the rest of the preview here to find out who is expected to play a starring role, Mike Modano's thoughts on the Stars' future, predictions and more.

Mike Modano excited about Stars' future

August, 15, 2014
8/15/14
9:56
AM CT
Hockey has taken a back seat for former Dallas Stars captain Mike Modano.

The 44-year-old Hall of Famer and his wife, professional golfer Allison Micheletti (daughter of former NHLer Joe Micheletti), recently celebrated the birth of twins Jack and Kate.

But even while juggling a pair of newborns, Modano has time to get excited about the changes underway for a Dallas Stars team building toward the future.

[+] EnlargeMike Modano
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezMike Modano amassed 561 goals and 1,374 points in 1,499 NHL games.
Last summer, newly hired general manager Jim Nill acquired Tyler Seguin via trade with the Boston Bruins, a move that was met with some skepticism because of questions about Seguin's character.

Seguin, however, thrived and helped make the Stars one of the most exciting young teams. And the club made the playoffs for the first time in six years.

This summer, Nill added another elite center, trading for Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza to give the Stars a formidable one-two punch down the middle. Nill also signed skilled winger Ales Hemsky to a three-year, $12 million deal.

"I think it's been very positive, a kind of piece-by-piece process, but that pretty much goes with a lot of teams rebuilding. Bits and pieces become available, there are big trades to acquire the personnel you want and Jim did that with the Seguin deal," Modano told ESPN.com in a phone conversation. "Energetic youth comes in and kind of has a lot of work ethic, and obviously this summer [Nill] gets that No. 2 center, so taking care of Spezza was a big deal.

"They have the pieces and the personnel, it’s just a matter of whether it will come together."

Trades for top playmaking centers like Seguin and Spezza don't come by often and they aren't easy to make, but Modano -- who helped bring Dallas a Stanley Cup in 1999 -- wasn't surprised Nill was able to pull it off in consecutive offseasons.

Modano, regarded as one of the best U.S.-born centers to play the game, has known Nill for a long time and knows he has a savvy hockey mind. Nill understands how to treat his players, as well as the business side of the game.

"I think it says a lot about Jim Nill. Good GMs around the league have a way of luring good players to play for their organization," said Modano, who had 561 goals and 1,374 points in 1,499 NHL games. "That comes with his history with the [Detroit Red] Wings, working with [GM] Kenny Holland, [owner Mike] Ilitch.

"You create some opportunities for individuals getting a second chance or reinventing themselves as players. He's kind of got that asset to him that he's able to do that and get them excited about being here. The stability with ownership here, that does a lot, too."

Nill and the Stars' ownership can't really afford to sit back and be patient, though. Given the absurd level of competition in the stacked Central Division, teams feel tremendous pressure to make themselves better with each offseason.

"The division is fast, skilled, big, a lot of those components," Modano said. "You try to keep up with the Joneses or you get passed by."

But he doesn’t see that happening. He thinks the Stars should be able to earn another postseason berth in 2015.

"If they can get out of the gates strong the first few months, they can give themselves some breathing room," Modano said. "Though they still might have to scratch and claw down to the last week."

Just this past year, Modano has taken on the role of executive adviser and alternate governor with the Stars. It allows him to be around the team and help out more than he did immediately after retiring in 2011. He might become more involved in the future, but for right now he is happy with how things are going.

After all, having two newborns doesn’t leave him much free time. Or sleep, for that matter.

"As time goes by, there are little niches I enjoy doing that hopefully evolve into something, a bigger responsibility going forward, down the road," Modano said. "But for right now, I'll keep doing what I've been doing."


Maybe you wondered if Jim Nill, who spent all of those years working behind the scenes with the Detroit Red Wings, would have the stuff to be a big-time NHL general manager on his own with the Dallas Stars.

Maybe you'll stop wondering now.

In one calendar year, Nill has stocked his team with two elite centers and has the Stars in a strong position to not just build on this season's surprise berth in the playoffs, but to make some noise next spring.

Nill followed his July 2013 acquisition of Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins in a blockbuster deal by acquiring disgruntled Ottawa center Jason Spezza on Tuesday, about an hour before the start of the free-agency period.

[+] EnlargeJason Spezza
Graig Abel/Getty ImagesJason Spezza gives the Stars a potent 1-2 punch at center alongside Tyler Seguin.
The Stars sent Alex Chiasson, Alex Guptill, Nicholas Paul and a second-round 2015 draft pick to Ottawa, which continues to reshape its roster. The Senators have lost their past two captains in successive years, with Daniel Alfredsson signing as a free agent last summer with Detroit.

The Stars also got prospect Ludwig Karlsson in the deal.

Chiasson, a 6-foot-4 winger, looks to have the most upside of the group, enjoying a strong start in his rookie season with the Stars but cooling off in the second half, finishing with 13 goals and 35 points (including six power-play goals and four game-winners).

He’ll presumably get a chance to play top-six minutes with a team that must redefine itself offensively. The Senators are coming off a disappointing season in which they missed the playoffs despite remaining relatively healthy. They made surprise postseason appearances in each of the previous two seasons.

The Stars, of course, get the best player in the deal in Spezza, the second overall pick in 2001 who had spent his entire career in Ottawa and had grown tired of playing there.

Still, the move doesn’t come without question marks for Dallas. (Is there a deal of this magnitude that ever gets done without some questions about the players involved?)

Spezza has had injury issues, most notably back problems that limited him to just five regular-season games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He has played 80 or more games in a season just twice in his career.

Spezza remains a top talent, though, and has managed to collect 52 points in 56 postseason games. Those are numbers that will be important to the Stars, who pushed the Anaheim Ducks to six games in the first round of the playoffs this spring.

That series was instructive to Nill and Lindy Ruff, who was in his first year as the Stars’ coach.

Teams in the Western Conference must have the goods down the middle if they’re going to compete with the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim struck pivot gold by acquiring Ryan Kesler from the Vancouver Canucks before the June 27 draft. Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators have been scrambling to fill in down the middle as well.

The Stars began the draft period looking like it wouldn’t be in the running for players such as Spezza, who identified 10 teams to which he wouldn’t accept a trade.

And yet Nill and Ottawa GM Bryan Murray managed to get a deal done that gives the Stars a nice complement to Seguin, who blossomed with 37 goals (eight game-winners) last season after spending two tumultuous years in Boston, where the No. 2 overall pick in 2010 spent much of the time playing wing.

Now look around the Western Conference and contemplate these center combinations: Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter in Los Angeles; Ryan Getzlaf and Kesler in Anaheim; Logan Couture and Joe Thornton (if he stays) in San Jose; and now Seguin and Spezza in Dallas.

In a matter of days, the balance of power has been dramatically altered in the West, home to a preponderance of the NHL’s top teams.

Spezza has one year left on a deal that pays him just $4 million in real money but comes with a $7 million cap hit. Nill will presumably be looking to extend Spezza, but that’s something to consider down the road. And if the Stars hit the skids, they could of course consider flipping Spezza at next season's trade deadline.

And let’s be honest: Frankly, the Stars aren’t quite there yet. But when you factor in Seguin, Spezza and Cody Eakin, who had 16 goals last season, the Stars’ complement of centers is impressive. Throw in Jamie Benn (34 goals), emerging Russian talent Valeri Nichushkin and new signing Ales Hemsky (who played some with Spezza after going to Ottawa at the trade deadline last season) on the wings and the Stars will be able to go toe-to-toe offensively with most of the competition in the West.

Defensively, the team is still maturing and we must admit a certain ongoing skepticism about goalie Kari Lehtonen staying healthy enough to carry the Stars beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Still, as the free-agent market opens, there is little question the Stars are better than they were a few hours ago and are forcing teams to scramble for other options.

Ducks' rally tough for Stars to swallow

April, 27, 2014
4/27/14
11:51
PM CT

DALLAS -- This didn’t really have the makings of any sort of miracle on Texas ice for the Anaheim Ducks.

They were down two goals with a little more than two minutes left in Game 6 against the Dallas Stars, a deficit that had to seem much larger. The Stars had dictated play behind a raucous sellout crowd, and the Ducks had already replaced starting goalie Frederik Andersen with Jonas Hiller. Game 7 on Tuesday night was on everyone's calendars.

Then everything changed.

"I wasn't expecting it to happen," Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

No one was, Bruce.

The first person Boudreau thanked for his team’s three-goal barrage in the final five minutes of game time -- two goals in the last 2:10 of regulation and the winner 2:47 into overtime that gave Anaheim the unlikely 5-4 win -- was Patrick Roy.

Roy? Yep. The Hall of Fame-goalie-turned-coach-of-the-Colorado Avalanche started pulling his netminder earlier than conventional hockey wisdom allowed this season and got results. Perhaps Roy’s way will become conventional wisdom. Boudreau is surely a convert now. When the Ducks found themselves down two goals with just under three minutes left, the coach was watching the ice and waiting for a chance to pull Hiller.

"I knew if we got one, then anything could happen," Boudreau said. "We’ve had a year that everything like this has happened to us. You’re always hopeful and you believe and you’re talking on the bench to believe, but deep down you don’t really think it’s going to happen."

But it did. Nick Bonino scored with 2:10 left in the game with the extra attacker on the ice. You could sense the Ducks bench getting lots of life from it.

"No one was done," Bonino said. "We felt we could come back, considering we have done it all year."

That was the key goal. Because it happened with so much time left, it gave the Ducks a chance to ready themselves for one last burst to tie it.

"It makes a heck of a difference when that happens," Boudreau said. "Two goals and you’re thinking, ‘Yeah, maybe we got a chance,’ and you talk about it, but I don’t know if there’s a lot of belief in it. But when he scored that goal and you looked up at the clock and there’s still two-plus minutes, you go, ‘Hey, we’ve still got an opportunity here.’ That’s when everybody started to get pretty excited, and they probably went, ‘Uh-oh, we better defend and defend,’ and I think we just kept coming and they were nervous about the whole situation."

It made the Ducks the aggressors again. Boudreau pulled Hiller again to put additional pressure on Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen. As the seconds ticked by with half a minute left, bodies started piling up in front of the net. Lehtonen’s stick slid by, ending up where he couldn’t reach it. The goalie tried to cover the net but couldn’t as the puck squirted to Devante Smith-Pelly, who flicked it high over a sprawled Lehtonen.

Tie game. The goal left the sellout crowd of more than 19,000 stunned. It zapped all of the momentum the Stars had worked so hard to obtain. All that was left for Stars coach Lindy Ruff was a pep talk before overtime.

"I told them what I’ve been telling them all year: Refocus. Get ready to play," Ruff said. "The room was upbeat. I told them, 'Pick your heads up and get ready to go.'"

But it was the Ducks who got the best chance early in overtime and buried it. The Stars looked a bit dazed as they skated to shake hands at center ice. Heck, the Ducks looked a little bewildered, too.

"It’s a tough one to swallow," said Stars defenseman Trevor Daley, who was two minutes away from earning the club’s cowboy hat for MVP of the game and joining his teammates for another flight out west. "We felt there were a good three games that we probably had opportunities to win. It wasn’t just tonight. You want to learn from it. We’ve got a young team. We’ve got to move forward."

Lehtonen talked to the media and then sat at his locker, not moving an inch with his pads still on, staring at nothing in particular. Perhaps he was replaying the final three goals that altered the series, hoping for another chance to skate and try to make a save.

For the Stars, Sunday’s late collapse means the season ends earlier than they wanted, though perhaps not earlier than many expected. That won’t make anyone in the organization feel any better for the next few days, maybe months.

"We had it right there at 4-2 with two minutes left, but it’s a cruel way," Ruff said. "Sometimes hockey is cruel. It was cruel, really cruel to a group of guys that worked as hard as they possibly could."

For the Ducks, the win means they put last year’s disappointment behind them. Then, they skated into Detroit with a 3-2 series lead and lost in overtime only to come back home for Game 7 and lose by a goal. It was an early exit after a solid regular season.

Dallas was a few minutes away from those doubts maybe getting into the heads of the Ducks as they prepared for a Game 7. Instead, Anaheim gets a dramatic victory it can use as a building block for a second-round series against Pacific Division rival Los Angeles or San Jose.

The Stars, meanwhile, must use their first playoff appearance in six seasons as a learning experience.

"That’s not the way you want to go through it," Daley said. "With two minutes there, you think you’re going back to Anaheim. But it’s a learning lesson. We learn from it. We learn as a team. There’s a lot of young guys on this team that will be back next year. The playoffs isn’t given to you. It’s tough to get in the playoffs. When you do get the chance, you’ve got to take advantage of it, and we feel like we blew a great opportunity."

The Ducks took advantage and move on in a most unexpected way. It might be a good time for Boudreau to send Roy a thank-you text.

Rapid Reaction: Ducks 5, Stars 4 OT

April, 27, 2014
4/27/14
10:25
PM CT

DALLAS -- The Anaheim Ducks are moving on to the second round of the playoffs after coming back to beat the Dallas Stars 5-4 in Game 6 in Dallas on Sunday.

How it happened: The Stars scored three goals in the first period to take control early. Dallas scored its first power-play goal since Game 2 and Ryan Garbutt's goal with 59 seconds left in the period gave the Stars a two-goal cushion. For the second straight game in Dallas, Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen watched the end from the bench. He was pulled midway through the second period (he was pulled in the third period of Game 4 in Dallas) and replaced by Jonas Hiller for the remainder of the game. Daley's second goal of the game, at 10:33 of the second period, put the Stars up by two goals for the second time. It stayed that way until Nick Bonino scored with Hiller on the bench in favor of an extra skater with 2:10 left in the game. Anaheim pulled Hiller again in the final minute and off a huge scrum in front of the Stars' net, goalie Kari Lehtonen lost his stick and moments later lost sight of the puck. Devante Smith-Pelly found it just outside the crease and floated it top shelf to tie the score with 22 seconds left.

What it means: Anaheim wins the series 4-2, scoring three unanswered goals to do it. The Ducks went through a goalie change, seemingly little momentum and a loud road crowd and found a way to get it done. It also avoids any thoughts of last season, when they lost to Detroit in Game 6 and then fell at home in Game 7 in the first round.

Players of the game: Jonas Hiller and Nick Bonino. He came in midway through the second period and didn't let anything by him. Despite a bunch of scoring chances and play going on in front of him, Hiller kept the Ducks within range, and they used late-third-period heroics to get the game to OT. Without Hiller's steady play in substitute duty, the Ducks aren't in the game to win it in overtime. Bonino scored the third goal of the game to get the Ducks within one and then deposited the winner in overtime.

Stat of the game: Three goals were scored in the final five minutes of the game by the Ducks to win it. The Ducks were relentless down the stretch. They pulled the goalie twice to score the tying goals, and then Anaheim got the one shot it needed to win the series.

What's next: Anaheim moves on to the second round and awaits the winner of the San Jose-Los Angeles series. The Sharks and Kings play Game 6 on Monday.

Ducks take care of business in Game 5

April, 26, 2014
4/26/14
2:37
AM CT


ANAHEIM -- The Anaheim Ducks didn’t get lured into bad behavior this time around.

They took the first blow from the Dallas Stars in Game 5 of their Western Conference quarterfinal Friday night -- or more accurately, the first spear from left wing Ryan Garbutt -- and paid the Stars back the best way they know how: scoring a franchise-record four power-play goals en route to a 6-2 victory at Honda Center, giving them a 3-2 series lead.

“It’s about maintaining our focus,” said Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf, who had a goal and two assists to tie his career high for playoff points. “When we got to Dallas last time, we got a little bit revved up and got into some things that weren’t part of our game. Tonight, we did a better job of focusing on what we need to do and we need to do that again next game.”

That would be Game 6 on Sunday in Dallas, where the Ducks have a chance to win just their second playoff series since capturing the Stanley Cup in 2007.

The Ducks not only dominated with their power play, but they also stonewalled all seven power-play situations for the Stars, including a full minute with a two-man disadvantage. Anaheim rookie goalie Frederik Andersen bounced back from two shaky performances in Games 3 and 4 in Dallas to stop 34 shots and give the Ducks time to sort things out on the offensive end.

“We expected that from Freddie,” Getzlaf said. “He wasn’t very impressed with himself after that Game 4 and I thought he did a great job as a young goalie.”

Ducks winger Corey Perry was the recipient of Garbutt’s jab to the midsection as Perry came on the ice and Garbutt went off during the first period, resulting in a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for Garbutt. Perry responded with a goal and two assists, which also matched his playoff career high. Perry set up Anaheim's fifth goal after he won the puck with a stiff forecheck and found Getzlaf alone in front of the net.

“Put the puck in the corner and put pressure on them,” Perry said. “That’s the way we want to play and that’s the way we’re successful as a team.”

The Ducks found the more they pressured the Stars, the more Dallas began to wilt.

“At the end of the day, if you sit back, they’re really bound to score at some point,” said Ducks center Andrew Cogliano, who took the puck from the Stars early in the third period and set up Jakob Silfverberg for a 4-2 lead that opened the floodgates. “But if you attack and keep them on their heels, not only are they defending but you have a good opportunity to score.”

And scoring fancy goals is exactly what Anaheim does best.

Rapid Reaction: Ducks 6, Stars 2

April, 26, 2014
4/26/14
1:32
AM CT


ANAHEIM -- Here's a quick look at the Anaheim Ducks' 6-2 win over the Dallas Stars in Game 5 of their Western Conference first-round series, lifting them to a 3-2 series lead.

How it happened: The Ducks scored four power-play goals in the postseason for the first time in franchise history, but it was still nervous time inside Honda Center to start the third period. The Ducks caught a break early in the period when Dallas defenseman Brenden Dillon tried to sweep the puck behind his net but didn’t get enough of the rubber and Ducks center Andrew Cogliano pounced on it. He quickly found right wing Jakob Silfverberg in front of the net, where he beat goalie Kari Lehtonen with a swift wrist shot to give Anaheim a 4-2 lead. That opened the floodgates as the Ducks would score twice more in the next six minutes to blow the game open.

What it means: The Ducks have to be feeling good about the state of their game after they dominated special teams on both ends of the ice and received a nice bounce-back game from rookie goalie Frederik Andersen, who stopped 34 shots.

Player of the game: Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf sat out the Game 4 loss in Dallas with an upper-body injury and was questionable to play in Game 5. He skated out for warm-ups to a nice ovation from the crowd and then went out and produced three points, tying his playoff career high and moving past teammate Teemu Selanne for the most playoff points in club history.

Stat of the game: Ducks defenseman Rickard Rakell scored the second goal for the Ducks, becoming the first player in franchise history to score his first career goal in the playoffs.

What’s next: The series moves back to Dallas for Game 6 on Sunday evening with the Ducks having their first opportunity to move on to the conference semifinals.

'Rally belly' gets Stars fans going

April, 25, 2014
4/25/14
5:28
PM CT
Twelve-year-old Jack Milson figured the Dallas Stars, down 2-0 early in the second period of Game 4, needed something to get them going. So when the arena cameras panned to his section, he lifted his T-shirt and started rolling his belly.

The stunt got the crowd laughing and cheering. Seconds later, Jamie Benn won a faceoff and scored to get the Stars on the comeback trail.

“I did it because we were down and I really wanted to win, and we all wanted to win,” Milson said after school Friday. “I thought if I did it, maybe it would get everyone cranked up -- and it did.”

The cameras – both in the arena and on TV – caught him again about five minutes later and Milson belly-rolled just before the Stars tied the game.

By the time the third period arrived, the Stars had added a “Rally Belly” graphic, complete with a "Goonies" reference. The crowd gave Milson a rousing cheer, and the Stars ended up with two third-period goals to even the series.

The Stars reached out to Milson’s mother, Cara, the next day and gave Jack two tickets to be sure that the good-luck charm will be at American Airlines Center for Game 6. In fact, the entire family is going, including Milson’s dad, Stewart, and brothers Harris (14) and Walker (7), who can be seen in the video with Jack.

And Jack now has his own Twitter account -- @starsrallybelly – with a little less than 200 followers in just a day.

“My friends just laugh about it and they think it’s funny,” Milson said. “They think it’s really cool."

All three Milson boys play hockey and have attended a handful of games this season. Jack Milson said he’s been shown doing the belly roll on the big screen at the arena a few times this season before Game 4.

Cara Milson said the family has had T-shirts made with “#rallybelly” on the front and “Go Stars” on the back. It’s a “Victory Green” color, of course.

“I think they have a good chance of winning the Cup,” Milson said.

If they do, he’ll be belly-rolling into June.

Stars, Ducks different teams from Game 1

April, 25, 2014
4/25/14
8:00
AM CT
FRISCO, Texas -- How fast can you grow up in a week?

If you're a father, you know the answer is "way too fast," but what if you're a hockey coach, watching your "kids" perform under postseason pressure?

Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff wasn't quite sure what to expect when the playoffs started last week. His team was a bunch of toddlers, learning how to crawl in the postseason. Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks were all grown up and ready to make a push toward the Stanley Cup. They looked like the experienced team in Games 1 and 2. They were at home in those games, doing the little things late and taking advantage of Stars mistakes to get a 2-0 series lead. Then, young goalie Frederik Andersen made enough big saves to help his team win.

[+] EnlargeShawn Horcoff
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsShawn Horcoff and the Stars seemed to hit their stride in Dallas, while Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen stumbled.
But Andersen looked nervous and a bit rattled in Dallas. So did some of his teammates. Four games in, and with Game 5 set for Friday night in Anaheim, California, the Stars are doing a lot more than crawling. They seem comfortable in these playoffs, unfazed by the physical play or the pace of the game. In fact, they seem content to push that pace, using their speed to create an advantage. Maybe they're using their inexperience to their advantage, too. The Stars spoke about having fun. They talked about enjoying the moment. But don't take that to mean they're content to simply be here.

There are enough big kids on this team to keep everyone in line, and 35-year-old Shawn Horcoff, fresh off his best game in the series, seemed to be sending a message to his teammates and the media at the Stars' optional practice Thursday.

"Our motto here isn’t just to come into the playoffs and get our toes wet and save it for next year and years after," Horcoff said. "The older guys realize that it’s not that easy. There’s a lot of parity in the league, and it’s tough to make the playoffs. You have to make the most of all your chances, and that’s what we’re trying to do now.

"We’re a team that is gaining experience as we go, game by game. We are learning from our mistakes and figuring out what kind of game we need to play in the playoffs."

Horcoff knows these opportunities don't come around very often. And now that it's a best-of-three series, Horcoff and the Stars believe they can pull off the upset and extend their first playoff appearance in six seasons a little longer.

To do that, the Stars must prove that the type of performance they put forth in Games 3 and 4 at home can translate in Anaheim. The Ducks hope their experience and crowd are enough to seize momentum back from Dallas. But they're facing a different team now, one that isn't likely to be intimidated by the surroundings.

“I think now we’re facing an opportunity where we can create some pressure in their building," Ruff said. "I think some of that apprehension that we had in that first game, a little bit to start the second game, I think that they know what to expect now."

And that's another huge, physical effort from a Ducks team that must figure out who is starting in net and whether captain Ryan Getzlaf can return to the lineup for Game 5. But no matter what the answers are to those questions, the Stars should expect a spirited Ducks effort from the opening faceoff -- and a crowd that will be fired up.

The difference: Dallas won't be surprised by either.

"We’re playing loose here," Stars forward Alex Chiasson said. "There’s a lot of guys here with no playoff experience and we don’t think much. We just go out and play. Hopefully, we can keep that mentality and bring it out there."

It's a team that's growing up quickly.

Stars' captain provides critical spark

April, 24, 2014
4/24/14
10:22
AM CT
DALLAS -- It didn't take long for Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn to get his team back in the game and the series Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJamie Benn
Glenn James/NHLI/Getty ImagesJamie Benn's slick goal off a faceoff win helped give the Stars momentum.
After a first period where Stars coach Lindy Ruff said his team was outworked -- and Ruff admitted that it "wasn't often" that his team gets outworked -- Benn took it upon himself to do something.

An early faceoff came just outside the offensive zone with the Stars down 2-0. Benn won it, shoved the puck forward and then rifled a slick wrister past Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen.

"Teams line up different, you kind of just mix it up, go off instincts," Benn said. "It was lucky enough to get a couple bounces, and I found it on my stick and just tried to get a quick shot."

It was a little more than luck. It's the kind of play Benn has made all season, helping lead this team into the postseason and now with an opportunity to knock off the No. 1 seed Ducks, if Dallas can win two of the next three games. It means winning a game in Anaheim, where the Ducks have played well and have won the first two games of the series.

Benn, as he routinely does, was more interested in talking about his team's overall game rather than his own. And he was impressed with the resiliency shown in the series and in Game 4 in particular after a rough first period. Dallas didn't get a shot off in the final 9:21 of the period and it was the Ducks who pushed the action.

"We are a confident group in here," Benn said. "We want to play the same way all the time, if we are up two goals or down two goals. We regrouped in the first and came out with a strong effort in the second and third."

No doubt. Benn provided the spark.

"That goal was really important," Ruff said. "To get us on the board that quickly and get the energy back in this building [was important]. I knew if we could get one early in the second that would probably tip it our way because we’ve always had good push-back from adversity."

Ducks lose lead, momentum to pesky Stars

April, 23, 2014
4/23/14
11:20
PM CT


DALLAS -- This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Not like this. Not to the top seed in the Western Conference, who skated into Dallas with a 2-0 lead in the series and an opportunity to seize full control.

Sure, the pesky and young Dallas Stars won Game 3. Hey, it was their first playoff game in six seasons. The crowd was fired up and the Stars played desperate. That was to be expected.

But in Game 4, the Ducks came out ready to set a different tone. They were physical. They hit anything on skates. They were aggressive and dictated tempo. They blocked shots and took advantage of scoring opportunities. And they did it all without their captain even in the building. Anaheim left the ice after the first period up 2-0. The Ducks were 40 minutes away from a 3-1 series lead.

Then in 27 seconds, the momentum was gone. With Ryan Getzlaf back in Anaheim getting treatment for a re-aggravated upper-body injury, the Stars’ captain made his presence felt. Jamie Benn won a faceoff just outside the offensive zone, pushed the puck forward and then fired a wrist shot past goalie Frederik Andersen.

The entire tenor of the game and possibly the series changed in that moment. The Dallas decibel level soared inside American Airlines Center and so did the Stars. It was Dallas’ speed that made the Ducks look so slow. And that speed created numerous chances.

“It’s been probably one of our biggest assets the whole year,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “When we’re skating, we’re a tough team to play against.”

[+] EnlargeDallas Stars
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCody Eakin and the Stars return to Anaheim with a tied series and all the momentum.


The pressure left the Ducks’ defense wobbly and Andersen unsure. The Stars peppered the 24-year-old goalie with pucks and got one to go in on the short side, a shot from Vernon Fiddler that Andersen has to stop.

“I was expecting the pass,” Andersen said. “They had a couple of guys coming in toward the net over there. I wasn’t able to trust my D-men there and that’s my fault. That’s one I’ve got to have.”

Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau saw it that way too and told backup goalie Jonas Hiller to get ready. But by the time Boudreau made the goalie change, the Stars had added two more goals in the first 7:44 of the third period and had a 4-2 lead, effectively ending the game.

“I really feel like we’re in a playoff series now,” Ruff said. “The first couple of games didn’t really feel like it; now we feel we’ve got a playoff series.”

That wasn’t the Ducks’ plan. They didn’t want the Stars feeling like they were in the series at all. The Stars team that squinted in the bright playoff lights in the first 40 minutes of Game 1 looks like it's enjoying itself now, perhaps wearing sunglasses to cut down on the glare. And Dallas has put all the pressure back on the Ducks, who now have some big questions to answer.

Will Getzlaf be ready for Game 5? Who will be the goaltender?

Those are questions you don't want to have to answer in a 2-2 series. But that’s where things stand now.

Getzlaf went back early with the intent to get treatment and do all he could to be ready for Game 5 on Friday. In typical playoff brinkmanship, Boudreau wouldn’t answer anything directly about the injury. But the Ducks clearly aren’t the same team without their scoring leader -- and team leader -- on the ice. So where is he missed the most?

“Everywhere,” Boudreau said. “He’s one of the elite players in the NHL. You miss him in the offensive zone. You miss him on the boards. You miss him as a leader. You miss him in a lot of ways.”

On the power play, too. The Ducks haven’t scored a goal with the man-advantage in a week, going back to Game 1.

As for the goalie, Boudreau said he’d talk about it with his coaching staff and general manager and decide Thursday. Don’t be surprised to see Hiller in Game 5.

Anaheim had a terrific opportunity to push the Stars to the edge of elimination. Now, the Ducks need to hope that returning home is a key in retrieving some lost momentum. Because there’s no doubt the Stars stole that on Wednesday and will take it with them to California.

Ruff’s right. It’s a playoff series now.

Ducks lose lead, momentum to pesky Stars

April, 23, 2014
4/23/14
11:20
PM CT


DALLAS – This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Not like this. Not to the top seed in the Western Conference, who skated into Dallas with a 2-0 lead in the series and an opportunity to seize full control.

Sure, the pesky and young Dallas Stars won Game 3. Hey, it was their first playoff game in six seasons. The crowd was fired up and the Stars played desperate. That was to be expected.

But in Game 4, the Ducks came out ready to set a different tone. They were physical. They hit anything on skates. They were aggressive and dictated tempo. They blocked shots and took advantage of scoring opportunities. And they did it all without their captain even in the building. Anaheim left the ice after the first period up 2-0. They were 40 minutes away from a 3-1 series lead.

Then in 27 seconds, the momentum was gone. With Ryan Getzlaf back in Anaheim getting treatment for a re-aggravated upper-body injury, the Stars’ captain made his presence felt. Jamie Benn won a faceoff just outside the offensive zone, pushed the puck forward and then fired a wrist shot past goalie Frederik Andersen.

The entire tenor of the game and possibly the series changed in that moment. The Dallas decibel level soared inside American Airlines Center and so did the Stars. It was Dallas’ speed that made the Ducks look so slow. And that speed created numerous chances.

“It’s been probably one of our biggest assets the whole year,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “When we’re skating, we’re a tough team to play against.”

[+] EnlargeDallas Stars
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCody Eakin and the Stars return to Anaheim with a tied series and all the momentum.


The pressure left the Ducks’ defense wobbly and Andersen unsure. The Stars peppered the 24-year-old goalie with pucks and got one to go in on the short side, a shot from Vernon Fiddler that Andersen has to stop.

“I was expecting the pass,” Andersen said. “They had a couple of guys coming in toward the net over there. I wasn’t able to trust my D-men there and that’s my fault. That’s one I’ve got to have.”

Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau saw it that way too and told backup goalie Jonas Hiller to get ready. But by the time Boudreau made the goalie change, the Stars had added two more goals in the first 7:44 of the third period and had a 4-2 lead, effectively ending the game.

“I really feel like we’re in a playoff series now,” Ruff said. “The first couple of games didn’t really feel, now we feel we’ve got a playoff series.”

That wasn’t the Ducks’ plan. They didn’t want the Stars feeling like they were in the series at all. The Stars team that squinted in the bright playoff lights in the first 40 minutes of Game 1 looks like its enjoying itself now, perhaps wearing sunglasses to cut the glare down. And they’ve put all the pressure back on the Ducks, who now have some big questions to answer.

Will Getzlaf be ready for Game 5? Who will be the goaltender?

Those are questions you want to have to answer in a 2-2 series. But that’s where things stand now.

Getzlaf went back early with the intent to get treatment and do all he could to be ready for Game 5 on Friday. In typical playoff brinkmanship, Boudreau wouldn’t answer anything directly about the injury. But the Ducks clearly aren’t the same team without their scoring leader -- and team leader -- on the ice. So where is he missed the most?

“Everywhere,” Boudreau said. “He’s one of the elite players in the NHL. You miss him in the offensive zone. You miss him on the boards. You miss him as a leader. You miss him in a lot of ways.”

On the power play, too. The Ducks haven’t scored a goal with the man-advantage in a week, going back to Game 1.

As for the goalie, Boudreau said he’d talk about it with his coaching staff and general manager and decide Thursday. Don’t be surprised to see Hiller in Game 5.

Anaheim had a terrific opportunity to push the Stars to the edge of elimination. Now, they need to hope that returning home is a key in retrieving some lost momentum. Because there’s no doubt the Stars stole that on Wednesday and will take it with them to California.

Ruff’s right. It’s a playoff series now.

Rapid Reaction: Stars 4, Ducks 2

April, 23, 2014
4/23/14
9:51
PM CT
DALLAS -- The home team remains perfect in this first-round series as the Dallas Stars tie the series up with a 4-2 win in Game 4. Some quick thoughts:

How it happened: Dallas controlled the final 40 minutes, scoring four unanswered goals -- two in the second and two in the third -- to turn a 2-0 deficit into a two-goal advantage. Cody Eakin scored on the rush early in the period, firing a wrist shot over Frederik Andersen to give the Stars their first lead of the game. Minutes later, Vernon Fiddler made a terrific backhand pass to Alex Goligoski, who didn't miss. That was all Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau needed to see of Andersen as Jonas Hiller replaced him midway through the final period.

The Ducks dominated the first period, holding the Stars without a shot for the final 9:21 of the period and getting two goals to take a 2-0 lead into the dressing room. But the Stars owned the second period. It took Stars captain Jamie Benn 27 seconds to get his team on the board, pushing the puck forward off a faceoff win and snapping one past Andersen. About six minutes later, Fiddler squeezed one over Andersen's shoulder on the short side to tie it.

What it means: Dallas has turned this into a best-of-three series by protecting their home ice in Games 3 and 4. The Ducks still get two of those three games in Anaheim, but the Stars will fly out on Thursday with the momentum.

Player of the game: The Stars' role players were the difference on Wednesday, led by Fiddler. He attacked the net, was physical when he needed to be, won some key faceoffs, blocked three shots and had a goal and an assist. That's a full game and a good one.

Stat of the game: 16-3. That was the shots on goal advantage for the Stars in the second period, when the momentum shifted. Shots can be a misleading stat, but the Stars just peppered the Anaheim net. They kept the puck in the offensive zone and the Ducks couldn't seem to get it out. The game went the Stars' direction from that point forward.

No captain: Ryan Getzlaf was scratched with an upper-body injury and flew back to Anaheim on Wednesday afternoon to get treatment. Rickard Rakell was inserted in Getzlaf's place. The Ducks listed Getzlaf as day-to-day and, by flying back and getting treatment, they are hopeful he will play in Game 5 on Friday.

What's next: Game 5 is Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET in Anaheim. And the Stars' win guarantees they'll be a Game 6 back in Dallas on Sunday.

Memo to Stars, Ducks: Shut up and play

April, 22, 2014
4/22/14
10:00
PM CT
DALLAS -- OK, that's enough chitchat. Let's just shut up and play already.

Both of you.

That goes for you, Anaheim. Yeah, I'm talking to you, too, Dallas. (Feels like a conversation I have weekly at home with my kids.)

It's not that the verbal volleys after Game 3 weren't fun. Who doesn't love a good argument every once in a while?

But, come on. Didn't everyone know things would get more physical with Dallas desperate and the playoffs back in Texas for the first time in six years?

The Ducks felt the Stars crossed that invisible, yet real physical "line" in regard to captain Ryan Getzlaf, the guy with the facemask guarding his lacerated jaw. The Stars felt they were simply playing a desperate, physical game, one they saw played effectively by Corey Perry in Game 1.

You're both right. And you're both wrong.

Antoine Roussel shouldn't have kept going at Getzlaf after the linesmen broke the scrum up near the end of the second period Monday. He landed a couple of punches after the bell. But it's not as if Getzlaf didn't get a good punch at the face of Roussel, either, as everything started.

Desperate teams sometimes do things that aren't particularly nice in those hard areas of the ice. The Stars were hoping to get the Ducks' captain off his game. They wanted to rattle him, and those around him, a bit. The facemask was just the tool to do so.

(Read full post)

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