ANAHEIM, Calif. – Two-thirds of the Anaheim Ducks’ top line is injured, including their captain and leading scorer. Their most beloved player has been benched, and their rookie goalie looks shakier each night.
Just four games into the Stanley Cup playoffs, the top-seeded Ducks are generating enough drama to occupy an entire spring.
And a series that appeared to be in Anaheim’s control last weekend is all even again.
The upstart Dallas Stars are rolling back to Anaheim for a pivotal Game 5 on Friday night after consecutive victories, running the Ducks out of Texas with speed and aggression. Dallas has outscored the high-powered Ducks in the series, and Anaheim is in desperate need of a morale-boosting victory.
“We need to settle in as a team and play with confidence,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said. “There’s a reason why we finished in first place. We get to play back in our building, and we should feel confident here.”
The Ducks would feel a whole lot more confident with captain Ryan Getzlaf in the lineup after the NHL’s second-leading scorer in the regular season missed Game 4 with an upper-body injury. Getzlaf was hopeful he can return for Game 5, but didn’t sound confident after the Ducks’ team meeting at Honda Center on Thursday.
“I don’t think I’ve missed a playoff game in my career, so it was a tough thing to watch last night and not be a part of it,” Getzlaf said. “But that’s the way it is. It’s not in my nature at all to step away from the game unless someone forces me to. It’s been tough and not easy to deal with.”
Injured forward Matt Beleskey isn’t likely to rejoin Getzlaf on the top line for Game 5, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said.
The coach also isn’t saying whether Jonas Hiller will replace rookie Frederik Andersen in net. Andersen was pulled from Game 4 after allowing four goals, and the veteran Hiller is eager to return after losing his starting job late in the best regular season in franchise history.
“Having quite a few games under my belt, that definitely helps me to find game mode,” Hiller said.
Boudreau also must figure out what to do with 43-year-old Teemu Selanne after scratching the Finnish Flash for Game 4, a move guaranteed to enrage most of the Ducks’ fan base. That includes Selanne’s 18-year-old son, Eemil, who posted a clever retort on his Twitter account: “ROSTER MOVE: Bruce Boudreau has been reassigned to Norfolk Admirals (AHL).”
Teemu acknowledged he thought the tweet was funny, but also told Eemil to delete it. Selanne then cleared the air with Boudreau before Game 5.
“I told Bruce, ‘It’s a new day. The series starts now,'” Selanne said. “There’s no hard feelings. It’s playoff time, and I don’t want to even think about any negative energy.”
Ever since the Ducks took a four-goal lead early in Game 1, the Stars have outscored Anaheim 12-5 in the series. Dallas’ confidence seemed to grow with each shift at home, putting the Ducks on their heels with superior speed during an impressive finish to Game 4.
“We’re having fun,” goalie Kari Lehtonen said. “This is a really great group to be in. I haven’t personally felt too much pressure. It’s more excitement and coping with that. It’s been lots of fun so far and we have to keep it going.”
While the Ducks worry about injured stars and hurt feelings, the Stars are reveling in their success despite modest expectations for their playoff return. Dallas is two wins away from a monumental playoff upset, but their veterans realize a road victory will be exponentially tougher.
“The most important thing is we felt what it’s like to win a playoff game, especially the guys that haven’t been in the playoffs before,” Tyler Seguin said. “It’s a great feeling. It’s a taste that you like in your mouth.”
While the Ducks’ injury problems continue, the Stars hope to have defenceman Brenden Dillon back in their lineup for the first time in the series in Game 5. Coach Lindy Ruff also was optimistic defenceman Patrik Nemeth will play.
“It’s starting from scratch,” Ruff said. “We’ve got to win a game in Anaheim. We’ve got to be better. I’ve got to do a better job with the team.”