DALLAS -- Lindy Ruff did an outstanding job in coaching the Stars to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, taking a team that’s almost evenly split between veterans and kids and molding it into a competitive group that has pushed the top-seeded Ducks hard throughout the teams’ first-round playoff series.
For Ruff, who spent the previous 14-plus seasons coaching the Buffalo Sabres, the playoffs have provided a continuing education about his own team and his players' abilities and character. Even if the Stars’ season ends Sunday — the Ducks hold a 3-2 series lead and can eliminate Dallas with a win in Game 6 at American Airlines Center — it would have to be considered a productive and positive season for the Stars by any measure.
The team’s work ethic, he said after Sunday's game-day skate, has been beyond reproach. He said
the Ducks, coming off a 6-2 win at home on Friday, have been “deadly on our mistakes,” and have been efficient in transforming scoring chances into clutch goals.
“I can’t ask for much more of this group. I’ve pushed hard when the tank has been almost empty.
They’ve answered every call, they’ve given everything they have at every turn to try to get in the playoffs, and I’m proud of the fact that we worked hard to get there, we worked hard to come back from 2-0,” said Ruff, whose 611 regular-season wins places him third among active NHL coaches, behind Chicago’s Joel Quenneville and St. Louis’ Ken Hitchcock.
“We’re going to empty the tank to try to get this to 3-3, and that’s all I can ask of them.”
One thing he will ask them to improve is their penalty killing, which struggled in Game 4 while the Ducks scored four power-play goals. Again, he credited the Ducks -- specifically center Ryan Getzlaf, who returned from a one-game, injury-induced absence to set up two power-play goals and score an even-strength goal.
“Getz is a world-class player and he made some world-class plays. We made some fundamental mistakes, like going down two on two on the power play and giving them basically a two-on-one on a nothing play,” Ruff said. “Even the first power-play goal [by Nick Bonino] was a fundamental basic where we just should have been stick on puck and hold the lane. We committed to something we didn’t need to commit to.
“But we know that if we give them time, they’re going to make plays. They’ve got some real good skill there. We had been doing a good job. We got a little, maybe I’ll use the word, we got a little careless with some of our responsibilities. You get careless against guys like that, they’re going to take advantage of it.”
Veteran defenseman Trevor Daley, the only holdover from the Stars’ 2008 playoff team, said staying out of the penalty box will be a key factor for Dallas on Sunday.
The other key?
“Win,” Daley said. “Not much more. We’ve got to win. We’re desperate now. Backs against the wall. We’ve got to win.”