The Stars looked across the ice on Friday and saw a more polished, comfortable and bigger version of themselves. No, they aren't trying to be exactly like the Boston Bruins. They aren't as physical, for instance. But what the Stars saw was a high-octane system similar to the one they are learning under coach Marc Crawford.
And they saw a team that executed it to near perfection. Boston skated out with a 3-0 victory at American Airlines Center that was more dominating than the score indicated.
Boston worked harder on the forecheck, crashed the net, played solid and menacing defense and dictated the tempo. They did it all from the opening faceoff. When the first 20 minutes ended, the statistics showed a lopsided game, despite only a 1-0 lead for Boston. The Bruins had twice the number of shots of the Stars (14-7), had 12 more hits and won six more faceoffs. They just kept coming in the second period and took control of the game with two goals in the first eight minutes. It was effectively over after that.
"We were guilty of going to easy areas," Crawford said. "Boston [spreads out], pushes you to the outside and corners and not the high-traffic areas in front of the net where most of the goals come from."
What made Dallas a tough team to play against the first five games of the season abandoned them on Friday. Or, maybe more accurately, Boston took it from them. It takes work to get into those difficult areas of the rink. You don't calmly skate in and plant yourself in front of the crease. You have to charge in and fight for your spot. The Stars couldn't get to those spots against Boston.
"I don't think they did anything special, they just worked hard," said defenseman Stephane Robidas, who had at least two pucks (and maybe three) go off him and into the net for Boston. "They have a good forecheck. They used their size, they used their speed and brought a lot of pucks to the net and they went for rebounds. It wasn't fancy."
Sounds close to the Stars' playbook, doesn't it?
Friday was a reminder that this system is still a work in progress. Crawford didn't seem overly annoyed when he faced the media after the game. He probably knew a game like this was coming. There's a reason Boston is considered one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. They have a skilled, yet sizeable defense and they have speedy forwards who can score. Add in a better goaltending performance on Friday from Tim Thomas than he's shown all season and you have the makings of a good team.
Stars center Mike Ribeiro admitted that once Boston scored the second goal, the Stars slipped out of their gameplan. They cheated more offensively, turned pucks over and couldn't get back in transition. That led to odd-man rushes for the Bruins and too much chasing around the rink.
"It's hard to play when you don't control the puck," center Brad Richards said. "We spent our energy getting out of the zone and you can't sustain the forecheck when you do that. We turned over too many pucks at the blue line and red line. It was a good lesson."
Crawford will get to see quickly if his team can apply some lessons learned Friday. They play another up-tempo team in Chicago on the road tonight.
"We get a chance to get right back out there and work a little harder," Robidas said. "We'll get better."