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.”
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.