With two and a half minutes to go in their Game 6 battle against the Anaheim Ducks, everything seemed to be working out in the favor of the Dallas Stars. The raucous crowd in their home building was at full throat. They had a 4-2 lead and had chased Frederik Andersen from the Ducks' net. They had an empty net to shoot at down at the other end of the ice.
Then, it all came crashing down around them.
After getting a feed from behind the net from Corey Perry, Nick Bonino lifted a gorgeous shot top shelf to make it a 4-3 game. With less than 30 seconds to go in the game, the Ducks tied things up, as an insane netfront scramble finally resulted in Devante Smith-Pelly flipping home a loose puck and tying things up at 4-4.
In the ensuing overtime period, the Ducks ended things just as quickly when they scored a goal less than three minutes in. Once again, it was Bonino doing the dirty work, firing a shot past Kari Lehtonen to win the series and prevent the Ducks from having to try to win another Game 7 at the Honda Center on Tuesday.
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As the smoke cleared at the American Airlines Center, the Stars and their fans were left with one question: How on Earth did that just happen? For the Ducks, answering that question is simple. The fact of the matter is that the Stars allowed the game to remain close enough for a comeback, and then Dallas let off the gas pedal in the final five minutes of the game.
When Cody Eakin fired a shot in on Jonas Hiller with 4:11 remaining in the game, little did anyone in the building know that it would be the final shot on goal Dallas would get in the game. Over the next seven minutes (including overtime), the Ducks racked up 11 shots on goal, including the three goals that they scored, while the Stars only attempted three shots. All of those came in overtime, and all of them were blocked.
While the Ducks may have taken advantage of every single opportunity during the late stages of the game, they also were able to make a couple of big plays happen early in the contest to keep it close. Teemu Selanne, who had been a healthy scratch in the two previous games in Dallas during this series, stepped up in a big way on a power play for the Ducks, as he fed a pass underneath Patrik Nemeth, and Smith-Pelly was there to bury the shot as the Ducks got on the board late in the first period.
As the second period got underway, the Stars were pressing the issue hard once again, but physicality proved to be an effective antidote as the Ducks trimmed the lead to one. Selanne was the instigator once again on the play, hammering Brendan Dillon (who also was victimized several times in Game 5) and jarring the puck loose. Selanne quickly tossed a pass out to the front of the net, where Ben Lovejoy fired a shot home to make it a 3-2 hockey game.
The rest of the game will now be talked about in hushed tones by Ducks fans, but that second period push that narrowed the gap really set the tone for what happened later on. The Ducks' defense, which clamped down so well in the final four minutes of regulation, was equally as impressive during that second period, allowing their first shot on goal against over 10 minutes into the period. Granted, that shot resulted in Trevor Daley's second goal of the game, but the fact remains that for over half of a period, the Ducks' defense reigned supreme on the ice, and it provided a precursor for things to come.
That, perhaps more than anything, is what the Ducks can take away from this game. Not only do they have a dynamic offense that is capable of scoring goals in crunch time situations, but they also have a defense that can slam the door on a really speedy offense like the Stars possess. That theory will be sorely tested if the Ducks have to face the San Jose Sharks in the second round (the Sharks are currently up 3-2 on the Los Angeles Kings), but if this series is any indication, Anaheim may just have what it takes to do it.