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.