Cross Checks: Dallas Stars

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."

Hair bands and hockey hair: a marriage made in heaven. So, we're dropping the needle on 30 songs that say something about each of the 30 teams -- using nothing but cheesy videos from the 1980s. The Western Conference list is below, so feel free to mullet over. (Eastern Conference is here.)



ANAHEIM DUCKS: "Maniac," Michael Sembello

Those crazy kids on the left coast will try pretty much anything. Which means it's all or nothing for the Ducks, who, if it weren't for their downtown neighbors, might be living the high life instead of never seeing the third round. But real life is hard, so that's why the Ducks went out and got Ryan Kesler and are sticking with young hotshots John Gibson and Fredrik Andersen in net, no matter what. And they mean it this time. Carpe diem, ducklings!

On the ice-blue line of insanity, it's a place most never see
It's a hard-won place of mystery, touch it but can't hold it
You work for your life for that moment in time, it could come or pass you by
It's a push of the world, but there's always a chance




ARIZONA COYOTES: "Livin' On A Prayer," Bon Jovi

Arizona Coyotes, Phoenix Coyotes ... does it really matter? With the team's arena deal hitting an unexpected bump in the road recently, this team's off-ice fortunes continue to cloud the future. Not to mention that said arena is still so far out in the boonies that no one goes to the games.

We've got to hold on to what we've got
'Cause it doesn't make a difference
If we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot



CALGARY FLAMES: "Holding Back The Years," Simply Red

What's the deal with these perennially lousy teams in Alberta? Not all the Brian Burkes in the world seem to able to fix this broken franchise. Jarome Iginla must be so happy he's not there anymore.

Holding back the years
Chance for me to escape from all I've known
Holding back the tears
'Cause nothing here has grown
I've wasted all my tears
Wasted all those years
And nothing had the chance to be good
Nothing ever could yeah



CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: "U Can't Touch This," MC Hammer

"The Blackhawks are so good." "Break it down, ESPN.com!" "They are so good, no one in the West will be able to touch them. Er, until the playoffs." "You had me and then you lost me, ESPN.com!"

Cold on a mission so fall them back
Let 'em know that you're too much
And this is a beat, uh, you can't touch



COLORADO AVALANCHE: "Beat It," Michael Jackson

Time to see what you're made of, Avs. You had an overachieving season followed by a disappointingly early departure from the playoffs. How you respond after all the Patrick Roy glass-pushing and novelty wears thin will reveal your true character. Show us how funky strong is your fight. And, by the way, let's see you do it without Paul Stastny.

Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
No one wants to be defeated
Showin' how funky strong is your fight
It doesn't matter who's wrong or right
Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it



DALLAS STARS: "Hip To Be Square," Huey Lewis And The News

We're watching you, Tyler Seguin. The fate of the Stars rests on your considerable shoulders. Show us what you've got.

I used to be a renegade, I used to fool around
But I couldn't take the punishment and had to settle down
Now I'm playing it real straight, and yes, I cut my hair
You might think I'm crazy, but I don't even care
Because I can tell what's going on



EDMONTON OILERS: "We're Not Going to Take It," Twisted Sister

All those high draft picks, all those low places in the standings, all that disappointment for a passionate fan base, all those seasons of missing the playoffs. Will the fans bail on the Oil?

If that's your best
Your best won't do



LOS ANGELES KINGS: "We Are The Champions," Queen

C'mon, you knew this one was coming: Kings, Queen, defending champions. But, seriously, can anyone dethrone the Kings?

We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
'Cause we are the champions



MINNESOTA WILD: "Abracadabra," Steve Miller Band

Who's playing net here? Is it a revolving door again? That never works.

I heat up, I can't cool down
You got me spinnin'
'Round and 'round
'Round and 'round and 'round it goes
Where it stops nobody knows



NASHVILLE PREDATORS: "Notorious," Duran Duran

The Predators never seem to learn. A couple of years ago, they brought in bad boys Andrei Kostisyn and Alexander Radulov late in the season, and their late-night carousing -- in the playoffs, no less -- helped bring the previously rolling Preds machine to a grinding halt. Now, they sign Mike Ribeiro and his ambiguous "behavior issues." Ribeiro -- whose camp sought out the Predators -- says he's changed his ways. Whatever. GM David Poile must be the king of second chances, or he likes living life on the edge.

That's why I've done it again
No-no-Notorious



ST. LOUIS BLUES: "Don't You Want Me," Human League

"Sorry, Ryan Miller, but we've decided to go in another direction. It just wasn't a good fit. No, no, it was us, not you. Yes, we can certainly be friends."

Don't, don't you want me?
You know I can't believe it when I hear that you won't see me
Don't, don't you want me?
You know I don't believe you when you say that you don't need me



SAN JOSE SHARKS: "The Breakup Song," The Greg Kihn Band

Some feel the underperforming Sharks would be best to start from scratch. Will fans forgive them if they don't?

Now I wind up staring at an empty glass
Uh uh uh, uh uh uh uh uh
Cause it's so easy to say that you'll forget your past
Uh uh uh, uh uh uh uh uh



VANCOUVER CANUCKS: "Separate Ways," Journey

Poor Canucks fans. Too many good goalies, not enough good goalies, fired coach goes to the Cup finals with another team ... so confused by the unrequited love they have for their mixed-up team. Everyone who comes to this team and isn't a twin seems to eventually go his separate way.

Troubled times
Caught between confusions and pain, pain, pain
Distant eyes
Promises we made were in vain
In vain, vain



WINNIPEG JETS: "The Way It Is," Bruce Hornsby and the Range

You know the Jets aren't really that far away from being the Thrashers, right? And you remember how crappy the Thrashers were, right? This team seems to spin its wheels no matter where it is or who is coaching it. Shame, really.

That's just the way it is
Some things will never change
That's just the way it is



The St. Louis Blues made quite the splash Tuesday, signing the most coveted center on the unrestricted free-agent market, Paul Stastny.

Just imagine had they also traded for Jason Spezza on top of that?

That’s exactly what the Blues would have attempted had the Ottawa Senators not dealt him so early in the day.

The priority in St. Louis was to make sure Stastny was going to sign there, but a source told ESPN.com the Blues would have also circled back to the Senators after that to inquire about what it would take to get Spezza as well.

Go big or go home, right?

At the end of the day, I’m not convinced the Blues would have offered as impressive a package as the Stars did, so the Senators probably made the right decision to trade with Dallas.

More on the Stars later. But let’s finish up with the Blues first. Major kudos to GM Doug Armstrong for sticking to his guns on not signing any contract past four years with Stastny. That was really important to Armstrong, but it’s hard to have that kind of self-control on July 1 when sometimes your emotions get the better of you with all the money flying around the NHL. He gave Stastny top dollar, averaging $7 million per year, but was able to get the term he wanted at four years, buying exactly the best four years of Stastny’s career from age 28 to 32. That’s mighty impressive.

At the end of the day, Stastny could have gone elsewhere for more term, but the Blues were the runaway front-runners if he was going to leave Colorado. He grew up in St. Louis and had long ago made that club a target if he couldn’t say with the Avs. He didn’t stay because Colorado just couldn’t move enough on term or salary to ever really come close.

Now the Blues will likely feature a top line of Stastny between Alex Steen and David Backes.

Stastny wasn’t the only free-agent center signed on this day by St. Louis. While it didn’t get nearly as much fanfare, the Blues were through-the-roof delighted to get Jori Lehtera to finally sign and leave overseas, where he has been a consistent top point producer in the KHL and before that the Finnish League. The Blues drafted him in 2008 but failed in a few attempts to get him to come over. Now he’s arriving as a matured, 26-year-old pivot who may turn some heads next season.

And those stars …
So in a league where team execs will always tell you it’s impossible to acquire top-end centers, Stars GM Jim Nill has picked up Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza within 12 months.

"Jim Nill is doing an incredible job there," a rival GM said Tuesday night.

The funniest thing about the Spezza trade is that, as late as Saturday, Nill was under the impression that Spezza didn’t want to go to Dallas. There was some miscommunication or confusion with Ottawa on that. Once that got cleared up over the weekend, Nill got back hard into the Spezza situation.

There had also been some dialogue with San Jose previously regarding Joe Thornton, but Jumbo still isn’t ready to leave the Sharks. So Spezza certainly made plenty of sense for the Stars, who tried to keep up with a Western Conference arms race at center.

With Ales Hemsky also signed Tuesday, you’ve got yourself a Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin pairing on the top line perhaps and Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky on the second unit. Um yeah, there’s a few goals there.

Blackhawks get Richards
Word is Brad Richards had solid interest from the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, but in the end he was really sold on having a chance to win another Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Conversations with Hawks GM Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville over the past few days were all Richards needed to take a one-year flyer with the perennial Cup contenders.

To me, that’s a great fit for both sides and a smart play by Bowman to make it work at $2 million.

Brodeur still waiting
Martin Brodeur told us before free agency he knew he’d have to be patient once the market opened, and that patience is certainly being tested.

Tampa Bay was looking for a backup and spoke to Brodeur's camp, but then chose to go with Evgeni Nabokov.

The Pittsburgh Penguins talked to Brodeur’s camp but couldn’t make the money work, so they signed Thomas Greiss instead.

You have to believe there’s room somewhere for the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie, even at the age of 42, but it appears it’s not going to be easy.

Habs deal GorgesS
It wasn’t an easy few days for Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin after word leaked out of an attempted trade of Josh Gorges to Toronto, only to have the veteran defenseman block the deal to the Maple Leafs via his partial no-trade clause.

Word first leaked Saturday via TSN’s Bob McKenzie and, while it produced angry comments from Gorges, the Habs hung in there with Toronto for a few days, allowing the Maple Leafs to try to convince Gorges to change his mind. Bergevin waited until Tuesday morning, but when he was told the answer was still no from Gorges (the Habs it appears would have gotten Cody Franson in return), Montreal quickly turned its attention to Buffalo and got a deal done for a second-round pick in 2016. The Canadiens eventually got their right-handed defenseman elsewhere when they signed Tom Gilbert.

Many Habs fans and even some Montreal players are not happy to see the popular Gorges go. But with four more years on his deal at $3.9 million per season, Bergevin and the Habs front office made a calculated yet unpopular decision that Gorges’ play in the last two years of that deal would not warrant the cap hit, not to mention the necessity to open up more playing time on the left side of defense for youngster Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi.

Said one Western Conference GM: "I think Bergy did the right thing even if it was tough to do. Gorges is a warrior, but those miles will catch up to him."

Meanwhile, another popular player also left town Tuesday: Habs captain Brian Gionta joins Gorges in Buffalo via free agency, signing a three-year deal worth $4.25 million per season. A source told ESPN.com the Canadiens didn’t waiver from offering Gionta only a one-year extension, so that decision to leave was fairly simple for Gionta.

Between both veteran players, that’s a lot of leadership out the door and certainly two players that teammates valued. I’d say the risk here isn’t so much on the ice with these two departures, but rather off of it. There’s a leadership void to fill.

Rangers sign Boyle
Dan Boyle left "a lot" of money on the table from other teams, according to one source, in order to sign for $4.5 million per season over two years with the New York Rangers. Fact is, the allure of playing with old bud Martin St. Louis plus quarterbacking the Blueshirts power play made the Rangers the front-runners for Boyle.

Toronto, Tampa, Montreal and Detroit also had interest in Boyle.


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.


PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps emotionally driven and certainly frustrated, veteran general manager Bryan Murray revealed more than a little after the NHL draft Saturday regarding his failed attempts so far to trade star center Jason Spezza.

For starters, the Ottawa Senators GM said a potential deal with the Nashville Predators was scuttled because Spezza didn’t want to go there -- the Preds are on Spezza’s list of 10 teams he won’t go to.

"[Preds GM] David [Poile] talked to me, and we couldn’t go there," Murray said. "I told [Spezza’s agent] Rick Curran that today, I had a deal sitting there if I wanted to do it, but he was on the list of no-goes."

Poile also confirmed the potential deal.

“I've talked to Bryan about Jason, and I was told through [Spezza’s] agent that he didn’t want to play for us. And that was confirmed by Bryan," Poile said Saturday.

The hint was that Murray could have gotten Patric Hornqvist and Nic Spaling, the two players who went to Pittsburgh for James Neal.

“They’ve done their James Neal trade, so that has gone away,” Murray said. "Anaheim’s gone away with Kesler, so the field narrows a little bit. But yeah, they might need to have a little change in approach, as well as I do.”

The question now is whether Spezza would consider changing his mind on Nashville if his situation drags on. After all, he is the one who asked for a trade.

“Maybe David and I will have a conversation later on, I don’t know that,” Murray said. "We talked today but didn’t indicate anything about a trade because of the Neal trade. But he may come back to me.”

[+] EnlargeJason Spezza
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyNashville is one of the 10 teams that Jason Spezza will not accept a trade to.
But a source close to Spezza told ESPN.com that, at this point, he has no intention of changing his mind on Nashville.

It’s clear that the classy Poile had a hint of frustration in his voice as he talked about Spezza not wanting to go to Nashville.

“I’m not going to pitch somebody if they don’t want to play for us,” Poile said. "This game is hard enough as it is. You’ve got to be fully committed.”

Poile sees Nashville as an attractive place for a player with a team that’s improving.

“I want to be optimistic. I think we’re closer than a lot of people are giving us credit for," Poile said.

“I have no problem selling my team, and I think it’s an easy sell. What we have on the ice, what we have off the ice, the city, the atmosphere, no state taxes, there’s a lot of advantages to playing in Nashville.”

And what he’d dearly love is a center of Spezza’s talents, or perhaps Paul Stastny (UFA on Tuesday).

“If I had it on my wish list, I would like to get a No. 1 center, and we’re going to try to get that,” Poile said. "If that happens the next couple of days or it happens in free agency or it happens through a trade that would be great. If it doesn’t happen right now, I have patience. I don’t think we really have an age problem on our team, but I think we’re really getting the correct pieces in place to be a more competitive club than we’ve been in the last couple of years.”

For the Senators, it may very well be that once Stastny is taken off the market, some of the teams who were chasing him will come back on Spezza.

"We’ll continue to talk and, over the course of time, I’m sure people that miss out on July 1 may come knocking, but we’ll have to wait and see," Murray said.

"Jason’s a 80-90 point guy, and you don’t get that return in any kind of trade in this league today, but I’m hoping we get something fair for the organization, so that we can put a player on the ice and maybe get a prospect or two and go from there."

A source told ESPN.com that Murray had another conversation about Spezza with St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong on Saturday morning, the Senators trying to pry the Blues’ second-round pick in a possible package. But the Blues stood pat for now, although it’s believed their interest in Spezza remains strong. The same can be said for the Chicago Blackhawks, although they’ve got to figure out their salary-cap situation to have any chance to make a deal work with Ottawa.

The Blues also have interest in Stastny, so that’s another potential avenue, although half the teams in the league have approached Stastny’s camp.

HABS TRY TO MOVE GORGES
Talk about out of left field, news broke by my TSN teammate Bob McKenzie on Saturday that the Maple Leafs and rival Montreal Canadiens had talked about a potential Josh Gorges trade. Only one problem, Toronto isn’t among the 15 teams that Gorges has listed on his partial no-trade provision as clubs he’s willing to go to. But what it does tell you is that Gorges is in play, only thing is, Montreal needs to find a partner among those 15 teams listed.

Gorges, 29, has four more years on his deal at a $3.9 million cap hit.

The Leafs did trade for a blueliner, getting Roman Polak from St. Louis in exchange for Carl Gunnarsson and the 94th overall pick. Toronto retained $200,000 of cap space in the transaction.

NEW SALARY CAP
Perhaps the biggest buzz item of the weekend was the salary cap, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association announcing Friday that it would be $69 million for next season.

That’s about $1 million less than what most teams had budgeted for, which is no small deal.

For teams like Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers, every dime matters when you’re a cap team and having a lower-than-expected cap greatly affects potential moves and certainly the ability to spend.

"Yeah, it affects every team that’s close," Flyers GM Ron Hextall said Saturday. "It affects us for sure. We’ve got to find a way to get below it. It was a little lower than we thought and hoped."

The Blackhawks are trying to find a No. 2 center, the Bruins had hoped to re-sign Jarome Iginla, the Rangers have Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman headed to free agency, and the list goes on.

Having a cap that’s a $1 million less than expected is far from ideal for many of these cap teams.

What’s most interesting is that in the negotiations over setting the cap number, it was the NHL Players’ Association wanting it at $69 million while the league wanted it at $70 million. The NHLPA’s concern was that a $70-million cap would lead to more escrow payments for players next year.

That’s a valid point, it’s just rare for the players to be arguing for less spending and the league wanting more.

"Role reversal," chuckled one team executive.

STARS BUSY?
Stars GM Jim Nill said he’d like to add a piece or two to his forward group but did not divulge his specific targets.

Sources suggest he’s talked to San Jose about Joe Thornton and also to Ottawa about Jason Spezza.

What he found out is that Thornton at this point has no intention to waive his no-movement clause.

AVS TO TALK TO STASTNY
Agent Matt Keator was a popular man this week in Philadelphia, courted by half the teams in the league on the subject of his client and pending UFA center Paul Stastny.

It’s clear Colorado will need to boost its last offer to Stastny (believed to be a number that starts with 5) in order to retain his services.

"We’re going to continue talking, I’m going to talk to him probably tomorrow," Avs executive Joe Sakic said Saturday. "We’ll see where we’re at."

Stastny dearly wants to stay in Denver. But he’s going to get offered more money elsewhere, so he will have to balance those two thoughts.

"That’s what you get when you’re an UFA, the ultimate decision is Paul’s," Sakic said. "I’m sure there’s lots of teams that have interest, where they’re going to go financially, I don’t know, but I know what we can do. Hopefully it will work out, but we’ll see."

ALFIE'S FUTURE
Daniel Alfredsson, 41, continues to mull over his playing future.

"I think right now, Daniel -- not unlike a lot of veteran guys in his situation and his age -- just wants to take his time and make the right decision," his agent J.P. Barry of CAA said Saturday. "He wants to feel 100 percent before he makes any decision.

"I think he’s leaning towards playing, we all think that, but at the same time he needs that time in the summer to feel 100 percent."

If Alfredsson does return, it’s likely only for Detroit.

NISKANEN READY FOR MARKET
Matt Niskanen is almost surely gone from Pittsburgh, the cap-challenged Penguins unable to match what the UFA blueliner will fetch on the open market both in term and dollars.

Don’t be surprised to see Niskanen and his agent Neil Sheehy fetch north of $5 million a year and term around five or six years for the puck-mover.

FLORIDA'S NO. 1 PICK
Panthers GM Dale Tallon said he was close on one particular offer to trade away the No. 1 overall pick Friday night.

And while Philadelphia and Vancouver made strong pitches, the club that made Tallon think the most was Tampa Bay, a source said.

Imagine if the two Florida clubs had gotten together for that kind of blockbuster.


Ducks' rally tough for Stars to swallow

April, 27, 2014
Apr 27
11:51
PM ET

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 already 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 now 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
Apr 27
10:25
PM ET

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

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. They went through a goalie change, seemingly little momentum and a loud road 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 some 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 game-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 played Game 6 on Monday.

Ducks take care of business in Game 5

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
2:37
AM ET


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
Apr 26
1:32
AM ET


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.

W2W4: Key stats for Friday's games

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
3:17
PM ET
Rangers at Flyers, 7 ET (Rangers lead series 2-1)
* Martin St. Louis (NYR): has goals in each of last 2 games (had 1 goal in 1st 20 games with Rangers - including Game 1 of this series - after being acquired from Tampa Bay)
* Rangers: have not won 2 road games in a playoff series vs Flyers since 1986 Patrick Division Semifinals; 3-6 in road playoff games at PHI since (won last)
* Flyers: lost last 3 playoff home games (last home playoff win: Apr. 29, 2012 vs Devils - Game 1 of 2012 Eastern Semis)
* Flyers: 2-19 (10.5 pct) on power play in last 5 home games (reg. season & playoffs) (25.0 pct on power play in previous 4 home games - 4-16)

Blackhawks at Blues, 8 ET (Series tied 2-2)
* Home team has won first 4 games of this series (home teams are 15-1 in Western Conference First Round this postseason)
* Three of first 4 games in series have gone to overtime (CHI & STL played just 5 overtime games combined in previous 50 playoff meetings)
* Blackhawks: 1-6 in last 7 ROAD playoff games vs Blues (lost last 4); last road playoff win at STL was Apr. 18, 2002
* Vladimir Tarasenko (STL): 4 goals in this series (leads all players in postseason); had 2 goals in 7 career regular season games vs CHI entering series

Stars at Ducks, 10:30 ET (Series tied 2-2)
* Home team has won first 4 games of this series (home teams are 15-1 in Western Conference First Round this postseason)
* Jamie Benn (DAL): 3 goals, assist in series; has points in 9 straight games dating back to end of regular season (7 G, 5 A during streak)
* Ducks: 0-11 on power play in last 3 games (went 2-5 on power play in Game 1 of series)
* Ryan Getzlaf (ANA): missed Game 4 with upper-body injury (currently day-to-day); has 9 points (3 G, 6 A) in 6 games (reg. season & playoffs) vs DAL this season (leads team)

Ducks lose lead, momentum to pesky Stars

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
11:20
PM ET


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.

Rapid Reaction: Stars 4, Ducks 2

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
9:51
PM ET
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.

W2W4: Wednesday's key series stats

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
2:08
PM ET
Penguins at Blue Jackets, 7 ET (Penguins lead series 2-1)
* All 3 games have finished with a 4-3 score
* The team that scored first lost all 3 previous games
* Sidney Crosby (PIT): 8 straight playoff games without a goal
* Jack Johnson (CBJ): scored goal in each game (tied for team lead with 4 points)

Ducks at Stars, 8 ET (Ducks lead series 2-1)
* Jamie Benn (DAL): 2 goals, assist this series (point in each game)
* Home team has won all 3 games
* Ryan Getzlaf (ANA): leads Ducks with 4 points this postseason (2 goals, 2 assists)

Blues at Blackhawks, 9:30 ET (Blues lead series 2-1)
* Blues: out-shot Blackhawks in each game
* The team that scored first won all 3 previous games
* Home team has won each game
* Corey Crawford (CHI): shutout in Game 3, allowed 4 goals each in Game 1 and 2

Kari Lehtonen puts Stars back in the series

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
12:59
AM ET


DALLAS – Whether Kari Lehtonen wants to admit it or not, no one was under more pressure when Game 3 began than the 30-year-old goaltender.

The Dallas Stars, newcomers to the playoffs after a six-year hiatus, lost both games in Anaheim and desperately needed a victory on Wednesday to keep hopes alive for a longer postseason stay. And Lehtonen didn’t have a single playoff win on his resume.

Right away, the Ducks tested Lehtonen. Saku Koivu found the puck on his stick in close against Lehtonen and fired, only to have it smack off Lehtonen’s pads. It was Lehtonen’s body language after the save that had Stars goalie coach Mike Valley expecting a phenomenal night from his netminder.

“He got that shot and some others early and I could see a little swagger,” Valley said. “He relaxed and played his game. Having him as long as I’ve had him, I know everything about him it seems like. You just know how he moves and you can see when he’s feeling it and when his mind is in the right spot. You could tell early on that he was there.”

The Ducks could tell, too. They tried to get pucks through him any way possible. But he closed off the 5-hole, blocked enough of the net to watch top-shelf attempts hit the glass behind him. He got his long legs and skates out to keep wraparound attempts away and he stoned point-blank opportunities.

[+] EnlargeKari Lehtonen
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY SportsKari Lehtonen made 37 saves in the first playoff win of his career.


“We had probably, I think, the most chances we’ve had in the series before but we couldn’t beat him,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s what Lehtonen does. I’ve coached against him for many years and have seen him play games like that and he can do it, but we’ve got to find ways to score. We had chances to score. We just didn’t get it done.”

Lehtonen simply wouldn’t allow it. He made 37 saves, some of them stops that looked destined to flutter the netting behind him. Koivu had a few. Nick Bonino had one in the slot that Lehtonen blocked and Corey Perry took several whacks with traffic in front and still, Lehtonen didn’t let anything by him.

He donned a Stars cowboy hat after the game, worn by the MVP of the game as voted on by the team, and didn’t try to hide his smile.

"At the age of 30, it was about to get that first one," Lehtonen said. "It was nice to be able to be back there and help the team out."

While there are a bunch of new faces on the ice and in the front office, it’s easy to forget that Lehtonen is Joe Nieuwendyk's greatest legacy to this Stars team as the general manager. He traded for Lehtonen when he was an extra goalie in Atlanta dealing with a balky back and helped build him up into a solid starting goaltender. J.J. McQueen and Brad Jelllis got him in better shape and Valley put him through the mental and physical paces to improve him on and off the ice.

“He’s changed a lot since he got here,” Valley said. “He’s playing a style that suits him now. He’s a big goalie, so he’s letting the game come to him. He has unbelievable athleticism, but it’s a balance of being fundamentally sound and using that athleticism when you need to.

“I think just as important, he’s matured as a person. Goaltending is so much mental and being able to deal with different situations, being able to deal with pressure, being able to have a short memory and when you let in a goal, move on to the next one. If you have a bad or great game, move on. He’s early learned to do that and that’s maturity and experience. He doesn’t dwell on things. He learns from them and moves on.”

Lehtonen played like a true No. 1 goalie this season. He was a big reason this team ended its playoff drought. But the value of a goalie is determined in the playoffs. Things get tougher. Players get more physical. Traffic in front of the net rivals rush hour on the 405 in Los Angeles or 635 in Dallas.

Teams spend much of their time trying to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the goalie. Lehtonen pushed through all of it in a must-win game for the Stars.

“It’s an extra layer of confidence,” Valley said. “Any time you can accomplish something you haven’t done before, which is a playoff win for him, that’s huge. That’s a big stepping stone. Hopefully, it will create a lot more stepping stones.”

Now Lehtonen must prepare to do it all again on Wednesday, when the Ducks are liable to push even harder to get Lehtonen off his game. It will be yet another test for the goalie, who passed his toughest exam yet in Game 3.

Getzlaf stars after life-changing 48 hours

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
2:10
AM ET


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Chin heavily bandaged, cheek scraped raw and eyes bloodshot red, Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf took the ice Friday night against the Dallas Stars looking far worse for wear than your typical NHL player after just one playoff game.

But most don’t experience in a season what Getzlaf went through in the previous 48 hours.

The 28-year-old team captain shook off the pain and discomfort of taking a slap shot to his face in Wednesday’s opener of the Western Conference quarterfinals and the emotions that accompanied the birth of his daughter in the wee hours Friday morning, producing a goal and assist in the 3-2 victory against the Stars and helping the Ducks to a 2-0 series lead heading back to Dallas for Game 3.

"He’s a leader on this team for a reason," linemate Corey Perry said.

Getzlaf said the only hurdle he needed to get past in order to play in Game 2 was the X-ray that revealed his jaw wasn’t broken after he took a vicious slap shot off the upper chin from Tyler Seguin in the closing seconds of Wednesday’s 4-3 win.

Then, late Thursday night, as he and his wife, Paige, were getting ready to turn out the lights, she went into labor. About 2½ hours later, they added Willa to the family, who joins sons Ryder and Gavin. Getzlaf was ready to settle into the hospital room for the night, but Paige had other plans.

"Once she was settled, she made sure I went home and got a little bit of rest so that I can play tonight," he said. "Once I went through the warm-ups and those kinds of things -- and got my feet under me -- it was OK."

Getzlaf laid a hit on Alex Goligoski on his first shift, which he said "helps get those little nerves out of the way." After the Stars took a 1-0 lead, Getzlaf then made a play so typical of his career when he stole the puck from left wing Erik Cole and beat goalie Kari Lehtonen up high to knot the score at one with just more than two minutes left in the opening period.

"That was huge," Perry said. "What a great play by him, stealing the puck and scoring on that. That’s the type of player he is, and he showed what he can do."

After Perry scored in the second period to give Anaheim a 2-1 lead, Getzlaf helped provide a crucial two-goal cushion when he hooked up with center Andrew Cogliano for a short-handed goal in the third period.

Cogliano was battling for the puck with Dallas defenseman Sergei Gonchar behind the net when Gonchar’s stick broke. Getzlaf and Cogliano still had four Stars they had to work around, but Getzlaf managed to get the puck back to Cogliano, who put the puck high in the net for a 3-1 advantage.

Getzlaf's night even impressed teammate Teemu Selanne, who has some experience with playoff points (83) and children (four).

"The last 24 hours, what has happened to him, that shows a lot of character," Selanne said. "He’s Mr. Incredible. … It took him a long time to realize he can be the best player in the league, but he’s finally got it."

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