Dallas Stars: Lindy Ruff

Stars coach proud of team, and told them so

April, 28, 2014
4/28/14
9:00
AM CT
Jamie Benn and Lindy RuffJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsStars coach Lindy Ruff said he was proud of the way the team competed and proud of the fans.
DALLAS -- It wasn't a very talkative Dallas Stars team in the aftermath of a late third-period collapse that turned Tuesday into exit interview day rather than Game 7.

After watching his team give up two goals in the final 2:10 of regulation and then the deciding goal less than three minutes into overtime, a disappointed Stars coach Lindy Ruff faced the media.

"It’s tough to lose this series considering how well we played the whole series really," Ruff said. "We had just dominant periods that one thing that was missing was a little bit of finish. You can go back to Game 2 where we were dominating. We could have been the team that scored late. We had a couple of unbelievable opportunities to tie it and we missed those opportunities.

We talked [Sunday] morning about some of our finish. We had it right there at 4-2 with 2 minutes left. But it’s a cruel way. Sometimes hockey’s cruel. It was cruel, really cruel, to a group of guys that worked as hard as they possibly could. There wasn’t one guy that was a passenger."

Credit the Ducks, who didn't stop believing and playing either despite getting dominating in nearly every facet of Game 6. But after allowing Trevor Daley's second goal of the game midway through the second period, the Ducks made a goalie change and didn't let anything else get behind them. Jonas Hiller, taking the place of Frederik Andersen, was solid and kept his team in it. And with the extra skater on the ice and an empty net at the Ducks' end of the arena twice as the game wound down, Anaheim found a way to get the job done.

(Read full post)

Stars' coach: Changes coming to power play

April, 27, 2014
4/27/14
1:00
PM CT
DALLAS -- It was special teams that decided Game 5. Anaheim was 4-for-6 on the power play, while the Stars were 0-for-7. The discrepancy was startling for the Stars, who had held the Ducks without a power play goal since early in Game 1 before the barrage on Friday. Anaheim skated out with a lopsided win and a chance to end the series on Sunday in Dallas.

"We’re going to change that up," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "It’s not working. The units are going to change. I think we’re getting a little bit of net focus and there’s not enough deception and I think that comes with frustration from not scoring. So that part is going to change."

What exactly that means remains to be seen. Ruff could perhaps move defenseman Trevor Daley to the top unit and see if that helps things work better. Or he could look at breaking up Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, splitting up the two top scorers to even out the first- and second-team units. Or maybe Ruff just wants an overall change of approach, rather than change of personnel.

We'll see. But it was clear the Stars' coach wasn't happy with how the power play unit performed in critical junctures during the first five games of the series. Dallas was 0-for-6 on the power play in Games 3 and 4 (both wins) and has just two goals in 24 opportunities in the series, the second-worst percentage (8.3) in the playoffs. That's nearly half of their regular-season percentage (15.9).

The changes could be just one more way that Ruff is looking ahead, rather than behind. He's never been one to dwell on past games -- good or bad -- choosing to quickly apply lessons and move on.

"This is a whole new experience for a lot of these guys," Ruff said about the playoffs. "I expected some of these bumps. [Friday] night hurt. But we have spent no time on the past and after I leave you guys, she’s all over."

Sunday is the first elimination game for many of these Stars' players and they get a chance to see how they respond in that type of environment. It helps them that the game is at American Airlines Center, where they've won both of their games in this series.

"That’s one thing with experience, you get it from playing and being in those situations," forward Shawn Horcoff said. "We have enough guys in the locker room that have been there before. Everyone that has been there knows that the fourth game is the hardest game to win in a series. The pressure is squarely on them now to come in and win a game in our building, where we have been good. We have to take confidence in the fact that we can play our type of game tomorrow and try to take it to a Game 7, where anything can happen."

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 3, Ducks 0

April, 21, 2014
4/21/14
11:31
PM CT
DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars earned their first playoff victory since 2008, beating the Anaheim Ducks, 3-0. It was the Stars' first home game of the series, played in front of a sellout crowd of 19,120.

Some quick thoughts:

How it happened: The Stars got goals late in both the first and second periods. Jamie Benn, the Stars' second-leading goal scorer in the regular season, scored after Shawn Horcoff's shot from the left circle hit the pads of Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen and came right out to Benn on the right circle and he deposited it in the net. The goal was scored with 35 seconds left in the first period, allowing Dallas to take some momentum into the dressing room.

The teams were physical in the second period and both had some scoring chances. But it wasn't until the clock got under three minutes left that the Stars expanded their lead. Tyler Seguin's speed and puck-handling created the opportunity. He skated into the zone and left it for Valeri Nichuskin, who managed to get the puck through Andersen.

Dallas added another insurance goal midway through the third period.

What it means: The Stars earned their first shutout since April 10, 2008, at Anaheim in Game 1 of the first-round and in the process are back in the series. It was an opportunity lost for the Ducks to take a stranglehold in the series. The result also guarantees that the series will go back to Anaheim for Game 5 on Friday.

Player of the game: Kari Lehtonen was terrific when it mattered most. He made several key saves on some point-blank chances, including Saku Koivu and Nick Bonino early in the second period. That kept it a 1-0 game and the Stars were able to add to it later in the period. Lehtonen was in a good rhythm and not afraid to come out and challenge shots. And he saw a lot of them. The Ducks vastly outshot the Stars, but just couldn't get anything past Lehtonen, even when they got some traffic in front of him. He made 37 saves, earned his first playoff victory and did so in a shutout.

Stat of the game: The Stars' penalty kill was 5-for-5 and became a big momentum-booster for Stars goals late in the first and second periods. The Stars didn't allow rebound chances, blocked shots and Lehtonen was able to keep everything out. The Ducks haven't had a power-play goal since Game 1.

Injured defenseman: Stephane Robidas fractured his right leg early in the second period after getting tangled up with Ryan Garbutt in front of the Ducks' net. It's the same leg Robidas fractured in November when he was with Dallas, causing him to miss four months.

What's next: Game 4 is Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET at American Airlines Center before the series shifts back to Anaheim for Game 5 on Friday.

Ducks goalie Andersen getting job done

April, 21, 2014
4/21/14
12:00
PM CT
DALLAS -- Coming into the first round series, the Ducks weren't sure what they were going to do in goal. They had depth at the position, but uncertainty. They made the decision to go with young Frederik Andersen and after struggling a bit in the second and third periods of Game 1, he made the key saves needed in Game 2.

"He has the team’s faith, there’s no doubt about that," said Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau. "He’s pretty calm in all situations. Off the ice, he’s a very quiet man anyway. You don’t see the nervous energy.

"If it was me, I’d be pacing. When I played, I paced. He just sits down there. He’s pretty calm. We have confidence in him. He’s been battled tested on the road in some pretty hostile buildings."

It helps any goaltender to have so many players in front of you blocking shots, too. The Ducks do a good job of blocking pucks so Andersen isn't called upon to make every save, but they are also cognizant of moving out of his vision line so he can make the saves he sees.

Andersen hasn't had to be dominant so far this series. But he did have to protect a lead late in Game 2 as the Stars' swarmed the net with the extra skater. So far, he's done the job.

(Read full post)

Top lines figure to keep squaring off

April, 21, 2014
4/21/14
10:00
AM CT
DALLAS -- Through two games, it has been top line versus top line. That was how the Anaheim Ducks decided to counter the Dallas Stars' line featuring Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. It will be up to Stars coach Lindy Ruff, since he'll get last line change, as to how he approaches Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. But it's very possible that we'll continue to see the top lines out on the ice against each other.

"We like it," Getzlaf said. "I've always loved that head-to-head matchup with anybody. It draws out the best in you and forces you to play both ends of the rink and play well. That's always a good challenge for us and so far we've been up to it."

Perry and Getzlaf both had goals in Anaheim's Game 2 win, and Getzlaf added an impressive assist on a short-handed goal.

"They are two good players," Benn said. "They're going to find ways to get their opportunities."

Perry's goal came when he took away a pass from Seguin intended for Benn and cashed in the chance. Getzlaf scored when he pressured Erik Cole into a mistake. Getzlaf impressed his coach with how he played Friday, after getting beat up in Game 1 and not getting much sleep after he and his wife welcomed a baby girl.

"He looked like crap in his face," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's obviously tired. He doesn't like wearing a shield and the first shift he's in, he runs somebody to show everybody, 'I am fine. I am good. Don't think you're going to take advantage of me tonight.' I thought that was such a telltale sign of a superstar."

The top lines on both teams know each other well. After all, Benn played with Perry and Getzlaf on Team Canada at the Olympics.

"They are great hockey players," Getzlaf said. "Benn we saw at the Olympics firsthand and [Seguin] has a great season coming here. He plays the game so fast and plays the game at such a high level that when you have Benn out there that can get him the puck, you have to pay attention to them."

Both lines have earned plenty of attention through two games. That's not likely to change in Game 3.

Stars hoping for AAC advantage

April, 21, 2014
4/21/14
8:00
AM CT
DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars are clearly comfortable at American Airlines Center. They finished the season with a 10-2-1 record in their final 13 games at home, helping them end a six-year postseason drought.

"We’ve played real good hockey, especially the last 15, 20 games here," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "In front of our crowd, I think that added energy will help our team."

But the playoffs are a different atmosphere completely. And Stars fans haven't had a chance to cheer their team in the playoffs since a loss to Detroit in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals on May 19, 2008. The Stars expect the building to be fired up.

"I’m excited," said Stars center Tyler Seguin, who has 42 points at AAC this season, tied for seventh-most in the NHL. "[It will] be interesting to see the atmosphere, especially with these fans not seeing playoff hockey in a while. I think everyone’s very excited."

Ruff also gets the benefit of last line change, providing him more of an opportunity to get the matchups on the ice that he wants. But more than anything strategic, it's the idea that practicing in Frisco, sleeping in their own beds and going out with a home crowd behind them will provide the Stars with an important boost.

"It’s going to be a great atmosphere," said Jamie Benn, who is tied with Seguin at 42 points at home this season. "Obviously, our fans have backed us up all year, so it’s going to be fun to go out there and play in front of them. It’s our first playoff game here in a while, so we’re looking forward to it."

Dallas was 23-11-7 at home during the regular season and seemed to play better in Dallas as the season progressed. They're hoping the comfort level they have in the building helps them get their first win in this series.

Will Stars' Brenden Dillon play in Game 3?

April, 20, 2014
4/20/14
7:45
AM CT
DALLAS -- Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff certainly wouldn't rule defenseman Brenden Dillon out for Game 3 of the team's first-round playoff series with the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, but he didn't sound particularly optimistic about the chances of Dillon playing on Saturday. He has what the team is calling a "lower-body" injury.

"There’s a chance he could skate tomorrow [Sunday]," Ruff said. "So we’ll see how that goes. But skating once and trying to play is a pretty big task, really."

Dillon was injured in the Stars' win over the St. Louis Blues last week, which clinched the club's playoff spot. He has not skated since then, so if he does take the ice Sunday, that would be at least a step forward. But whether that's enough to make him a player for Game 3 remains to be seen.

With Dillon out, rookie Patrik Nemeth is seeing more ice time and the club decided to give 24-year-old Kevin Connauton a chance in Game 2.

"I liked his mobility," Ruff said. "[The Ducks are] a good skating team. We were using him for his offensive ability and getting up ice. I thought he did a couple of situations where the defending side, I would have liked to have seen him on the other side of the puck. But I thought he added something to our team."

Dillon would clearly make the Stars' defensive corps better, as he was a consistent member of the second pair and someone who was solid on the penalty kill -- even recording two short-handed goals this season. He was third among all Stars defensemen in ice time per game with 21:05.

Stars coach: 'Doesn't feel like an 0-2 series'

April, 19, 2014
4/19/14
5:41
PM CT
DALLAS -- Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff walked off the team’s charter near Dallas Love Field on Saturday and didn’t sound like a coach searching for any kind of new strategy to help his team win what is now a crucial Game 3 at American Airlines Center in Dallas on Monday night.

“It doesn’t feel like an 0-2 series,” Ruff said, before heading home to unpack. “We definitely haven’t been dominated. In fact, the last game we dominated, we just didn’t win. We’ve got to clean up some of our mistakes and take advantage of some of those key opportunities.”

It may not feel like it, but the reality is the Stars lost both games on the road to start this series to the opportunistic Anaheim Ducks. They looked nervous in the first period of Game 1 and it showed as the Ducks jumped out to a 4-0 lead and then held on to win by a goal. In Game 2, turnovers and special teams were the difference.

What’s clear after two games is that most big mistakes made in the defensive zone against Anaheim turn into great scoring opportunities. And the Ducks have a penchant for scoring on those chances.

Two big turnovers turned into two key goals as Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry converted. It didn’t help that the Stars’ power play seemed to lose steam after scoring the first goal of the game. Handed a man-advantage with a 2-1 deficit, the Stars lost the puck and then couldn’t recover in their own zone. Sergei Gonchar didn’t get a slashing call after his stick was broken by Andrew Cogliano. Despite that, the Stars still had five skaters in the zone to the Ducks’ two, yet Getzlaf got the puck and made a nice pass to Cogliano for what became the winning goal midway through the final period.

“They’ve taken advantage of some of our key mistakes,” Ruff said. “There’s going to be mistakes in the game. You’re not going to clean up up every one. We’d like to keep them to a minimum, though.”

But even keeping them to a minimum may not be enough against the Ducks, who don’t need much of an opening on the ice to make things happen.

“We had the majority of the play and majority of the chances,” Ruff said. “They’ve had the best shooting percentage in the league and I see why because they don’t need a lot of chances.”

Nope. So limiting those chances even more in Game 3 is the Stars’ goal. For the Ducks, creating more of those chances could help them win on the road, which would give them firm control of the series.

“We played one and a half pretty good games,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. “We’ve just got to find a way to limit our turnovers, limit our mistakes and take advantage of theirs.”

Five things Stars must do to upset Ducks

April, 15, 2014
4/15/14
6:05
PM CT
It's not very often that a No. 1 seed is beaten in the first round of the NHL playoffs, but it's not unprecedented, either. In fact, a No. 8 seed -- Los Angeles -- won the Stanley Cup a few years ago. So what do the Dallas Stars need to do to pull off the upset of the Anaheim Ducks? Here are five things they need to do:

1. Win the goaltending battle. It's odd that the Ducks are the top seed and have major questions in goal. Jonas Hiller was disappointing in the final month of the season, forcing coach Bruce Boudreau to go with his younger netminders in Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, who won all three of his starts with a .954 save percentage. Stars coach Lindy Ruff is betting Boudreau goes with Andersen because of how much Hiller has struggled. But that gives the advantage in nets to the Dallas Stars and goalie Kari Lehtonen. He's played well this season and is seeking redemption for his quick and rough playoff experience with Atlanta.

SportsNation

Which matchup are you most looking forward to watching tonight?

  •  
    41%
  •  
    18%
  •  
    41%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,043)

2. Utilize their speed and puck possession skills. The Stars annoy opponents because they are always on the go. If you're not ready to skate, the Stars will beat you. Dallas is the faster team and if the Stars can drive the tempo up and control the puck, something they are very good at doing, they can make things difficult on the Ducks. Ruff's style with this team is to grab the puck and create scoring chances. And with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top line, they have the ability to do that.

3. Get scoring from more than Benn and Seguin. Everyone in the NHL knows how good Benn and Seguin are, but the Stars also have a second line that can do some damage in Antoine Roussel, Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt. All three will be playing in the playoffs for the first time. How they respond will go a long way toward determining whether the Stars pull the upset. The trio has played well down the stretch in pressure games and they look ready.

4. Do the job on special teams. The two squads are fairly even on the power play and penalty kill, but if you look inside the numbers you'll find that the Stars did a better job in both categories in the last few weeks. The Stars finished 23rd on the power play (Anaheim is 22nd) and 21st on the penalty kill (Anaheim is 13th, but not much higher than Dallas on percentage), but that was not indicative of how they played when the games mattered most as the season wound down. The Stars moved the puck well on the power play and found shooting lanes and they were smart, but aggressive on the penalty kill. They'll have to do both in this series.

As an added part to No. 4, the Stars' defense, inconsistent this season, must avoid too many costly turnovers. That's area that's been an issue for this team.

5. Don't squint under the playoff lights. This is a new experience for 12 of the Stars' players. Lehtonen has just two playoff games to his name. How the club reacts to the pressure, especially early in the series, is critical. If Dallas can stay calm and competitive in the first 20 minutes on Wednesday, that could set an important tone for the rest of the series. Anaheim has been here before. The Stars haven't played a postseason game since 2008. They've got a new GM, coach, owner and a gaggle of new players since then. They can't let the newness of the experience overwhelm them.

Nill practices patience turning Stars around

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
10:00
AM CT
Jim NillAP Photo/Tony GutierrezJim Nill says the Stars are probably about two years away from where they'd like to be.


FRISCO, Texas -- There isn’t much hanging on the walls of Jim Nill’s office, which sits just above the practice ice at Dr Pepper StarCenter in Frisco, home of the Dallas Stars.

There are nails, at least. But no pictures of Stars hockey players or even a few he helped bring to the Detroit Red Wings in his long tenure there.

“That’s on the list,” Nill said. “Be patient.”

Patience is something Nill is working hard to preach -- and even harder to practice.

The 55-year-old Western Canada native admits that the competitor in him makes it difficult for him to accept that turning around a Stars franchise that last made the playoffs when George W. Bush was still in the White House (and not yet living in Dallas) isn’t going to happen quickly.

“I’ve got to be honest: I think we’re going to turn the corner, but we’re probably two years away from what we should be,” Nill said last week. “The core of the team is 20 to 26 years of age. That’s young. You give those guys two years to mature and what we have coming up in the system and I think in two years we’ll have a solid core. That’s how Stanley Cup champions are built. We are in the early stage, but we have the talent.”

Tyler Seguin #91, Sergei Gonchar #55, Erik Cole #72, Jamie Benn #14 and Alex Chiasson
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJim Nill wants to find a young core to build the club around and keep improving.
It’s early in Nill’s inaugural season, but already his patience is getting tested. Dallas is 3-5-0 and is struggling on defense. The club is near the bottom of the league in shots against and, as you can imagine, is taking too many penalties thanks to the puck spending an inordinate amount of time in the Stars’ own end. It doesn’t help that starting goalie Kari Lehtonen has missed most of those games after tweaking his groin earlier in the season. He’s slated to return Thursday against Calgary.

“We just have to stay patient,” Nill said.

There’s that word again. What you won’t see in Nill is any kind of panic. That’s just not his style. Neither is skating into a new environment and showing off his guns despite his freshly-minted status as the Stars’ sheriff. But he has a way -- perhaps it’s his keen knowledge of the game and calm, yet assured demeanor -- of allowing his belief and confidence to seep into every aspect of the organization. He’s in charge, there’s no doubt about that. But he doesn’t have to flaunt it or demand it.

“The guy has no ego,” Stars owner Tom Gaglardi said. “He’s knows what he’s talking about. He’s on his game. He’s very competitive and hungry.”

Part of that comes from the fact that he was Ken Holland’s right-hand man in Detroit for so long, helping that organization draft, develop and hold onto key pieces that have made them the envy of most clubs in the NHL. And part of it is Nill has the ability to make those working for him feel immediately like they have a critical say in the direction of the franchise.
Maybe it’s that whole patience thing again. After all, Nill had chances to leave Detroit and didn’t. Part of it was his family. Part of it was his wife’s health -- Bekki has incurable liver cancer. It was discovered two years ago and 12 years after her breast cancer went into remission.

But when the Stars called, the Nills decided it was time for a move. That was after 19 years in management with the Red Wings and another three before that as a player.

Nill said he was sold after meeting Gaglardi and becoming convinced that there was stability in ownership and a commitment to winning. And he knew there were key pieces on the ice to building a contender.

“Any successful team is built from goaltending to defense to center ice,” Nill said. “You have to be good down the middle.”

Nill called Lehtonen a “great goalie” and is convinced he’s a player the team can build around.

“I don’t think he realizes how good he can be,” Nill said. “He’s at that age where he can figure it out.”

But the other two parts of Nill’s equation are going to take some work. He knew that before he arrived.

“There’s weakness on defense and we have to do something, but I know there are some prospects coming up,” Nill said. “That takes time. Defense is a tough position to learn. You need experience. The other big spot is center ice. That was a major hole.”

Nill went about plugging it. He moved Jamie Benn back to wing, his natural position, and named him team capatin. Nill made the biggest trade of his brief tenure, giving up a packaged centered by Loui Eriksson to get Tyler Seguin, a talented 21-year-old center. The deal didn’t come without some risk. Seguin made waves even before he skated in Dallas, putting some things on Twitter he shouldn’t have. But Nill managed to land one of the best centers available and did so by doing his homework. Boston needed to make a move with the salary cap dipping and the Stars had the ability to do it and improve their forward group. Nill made sure the Bruins had the Stars in mind when they were ready to make a move.

It was a deal in the mold of Nill’s philosophy: Find a young core to build the club around and then keep improving. Nill believes in doing that through draft and development, key trades and quality signings. It’s a blueprint that has made the Red Wings the envy of every organization in the NHL. You know the names -- Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Daniel Cleary -- guys developed or obtained by the Wings that made up their core and shoved the winning window wide open.

Of course, sometime mistakes are made. You could argue, at least right now, that $10 million for two years of an aging Sergei Gonchar might not have been money well spent. But Nill will also argue that having Gonchar and even Shawn Horcoff teach the younger guys about life off the ice will help them two or three years down the road, when Gonchar and Horcoff aren’t a part of this club anymore.
Nill believes strongly in what he’s doing and he’s not going to change course, even when the ice gets a bit choppy.

“You have to have stability,” Nill said. “If you start making changes every two years on philosophy, you’re going to chase your tail.

“We’re going to draft and develop. That’s the key in the world of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement, which includes a salary cap). You have to make smart signings. If you get committed to somebody long-term for big money and it’s the wrong person, your hands are tied.

“We want to be a high-paced, hungry, competitive team. We’ll play hard and move the puck. You can’t play to not make a mistake. We want to make plays. But you have to be smart. That takes time to learn.”

Nill also knows it takes a coach to help make that happen. He made the decision to fire Glen Gulutzan shortly after he took the job and began a search. Nill wanted someone with experience who could motivate and teach a young group. So he hired Lindy Ruff.

“The process of hiring a coach was probably the toughest thing I’ve had to do in my young career as a GM,” Nill said. “You know people, but you don’t know them. You interview and some people are naturally polished and some aren’t. That may not mean anything.

“I don’t want to say I got lucky, but I got the right guy. He’s a great person. The one thing I didn’t realize is he’s such a detailed guy. His passion is unbelievable.”

Nill didn’t overhaul the existing management group. Instead, he came in and evaluated the people left after Joe Nieuwendyk’s departure and decided to keep most of them. Les Jackson, the assistant GM, is respected in the game for his ability to evaluate talent as he runs the club’s scouting department. Mark Janko and Scott White do a fair amount of negotiating contracts and keeping up-to-date on the CBA, which a quick glance makes it appear you need several advanced degrees to understand.

“He cares about every detail in the entire organization from players, player salaries and treating the players with respect as well as staff, training staff, scouts, everybody,” Janko said. “He wants to know about everything that happens every day, but not in a controlling way. It’s more in a leadership way.”

The Stars clearly have their leader. And he’s telling anyone who will listen that while he’s frustrated with his team’s start, he’s staying patient.

“Patience is tough for everybody,” Gaglardi said. “I expect to get better. I don’t want to go backward. How far that takes us in terms of making the playoffs or how many rounds we win? I don’t know. I think this is a core of guys that in the next couple of years are going to improve and then in year three or four or five, we’ve got a real shot to win. That’s what we’re building for. But it takes time.”

In the meantime, Nill and his staff will continue to look for any way to improve the club while never wavering from their philosophy. Perhaps with some of that patience, Nill could hang a few photos on his office wall, though?

SPONSORED HEADLINES