A special teams battle was the last thing the Anaheim Ducks wanted to get into in Game 5. The Dallas Stars had held them to just two power play goals on 16 chances through the first four games and their puck movement had given the Ducks' penalty kill fits.
But a nasty affair that featured a shocking spearing incident and 119 penalty minutes forced Anaheim's hand. The team responded to the challenge by scoring a franchise-record four power play goals and killing off a pair of two-man advantages on the way to a convincing 6-2 victory and a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. They can clinch with a win Sunday evening in Dallas.
Ryan Getzlaf led the way with a goal and two assists in his return to the lineup after missing Game 4. His three points gave him 66 for his career, moving him past Teemu Selanne for the franchise lead in career playoffs points. Corey Perry also had a goal and two assists. The Ducks needed a big game from its best players and the top line delivered, asserting its will for much of the game. Clutch.
The Ducks reversed the whip after being pushed around in Dallas, outhitting the Stars 19-5 in the first period and 40-22 overall. They re-established their cycle, dominating the visitors behind their own net and using that space to create nearly a dozen scoring opportunities. They controlled the neutral zone, grinding the speed out of the Dallas attack. They got 34 saves in a swaggy bounce-back performance from Frederik Andersen.
And after blowing the game open with three goals in a 6:49 span to start the third they chased Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who allowed five goals on 21 shots to a Ducks squad that capitalized on almost every premium chance it created.
That's a pretty special team.
Here are some observations on Game 5 and a look ahead to Sunday's potential finale:
• Despite the implications of some gruesome advanced stats (a 23.1 percent Corsi rating and a -17.4 percent CorRel), you can't overstate the impact of Getzlaf on this contest. Coming off the unspecified, but obviously serious, injury that kept him out of Game 4 he was a physical and creative force from the opening face-off. He found Nick Bonino in the slot for the opening tally just 5:32 in, made a terrific cross-ice pass to set up Mathieu Perreault's game winner in the second and created a match-up nightmare for Dallas' D. Interesting that he took just six draws on the night (and lost five of them). That limited usage suggests the injury might be shoulder/wrist/hand-related rather than a lingering concussion.
• Don't be surprised if Ryan Garbutt doesn't see the ice in Game 6. The feisty winger crossed the line big-time tonight, delivering a drive-by neutering to Perry that earned him five and a game and led directly to Anaheim's second goal. It was the third undisciplined penalty he's taken this series, and it sounds like Lindy Ruff's had enough. "I don't want to see stuff like that," he said. "That tells me I haven't done my job good enough with him." The only way to get the message through might be to give him the bird's-eye view on Sunday night, but that would take his 17 goals--third-most on the Stars this year--out of the mix. Does the reward justify the risk?
• Rickard Rakell earned his start in Game 5 with an edgy, involved effort in his playoff debut Wednesday in Dallas. The way he worked tonight, he looks like a player for the duration. While his Kid Line mates struggled Rakell impressed, scoring his first career goal with a nifty net-front deflection and winning seven of his nine draws. As long as he keeps his feet moving and is willing to battle down low, he can be an asset to this club.
• Rakell wasn't even Bruce Boudreau's best call. His decision to come back with Andersen after a shaky effort in Game 4 had to leave his guts in a knot, but the rookie rewarded his faith with an effort that oozed confidence. Barring injury, he's set himself up as the go-to guy the rest of the way for Anaheim.
• Reputations are forged in the playoffs and after all of five games, Jamie Benn's is set. The kid is a legitimate superstar and arguably the most dominant individual performer of the first round.
His consistency is a thing to behold. He doesn't waste a shift. His intensity never wavers. And his timing is impeccable. Benn has scored Dallas' all-important first goal in four of the five contests, including tonight when he stripped Getzlaf of the puck and buried a backhander between Andersen's legs just seconds into the Garbutt penalty kill. It was another big moment in a series of them for Benn.
• Things didn't go as smoothly for his brother, Jordie. The older Benn was on the ice for Anaheim's first five goals. He and his partner Brenden Dillon were completely baffled by Anaheim's cycle, getting beat to pucks and failing to cover players out front. Dallas won't survive another effort like that on Sunday.
• I've been pretty rough on Tyler Seguin for his play in this series, so it's only fair to give him his due when he steps up. He was nowhere near the dominant player he can be, but he was more involved in every area of the game tonight. He landed eight shots on net, earned a staggering 72.2 percent Corsi rating, battled for premium ice down low and made a couple of terrific defensive plays, including a rink-long dash to break up a Perry chance deep in the Dallas zone. He still hasn't established his speed as a factor though, and that could be critical to the Stars surviving to see Game 7 next week.
• If Vernon Fiddler is playing his final few games for the Stars, he's setting himself up nicely for free agency. The 38-year-old veteran center is dominating the dots, winning 45-of-66 draws (68.2 percent, second in the league), fearlessly flings himself into the greasy areas and can still make things happen with his speed. He'll be looking to hook on with a contending team but might consider a rebuilding squad if the money is right. Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg might want to break out the checkbook.
• Sergei Gonchar and Ray Whitney made themselves useful to the Stars during the regular season, but they've been exposed in this series as slow-moving, slow-thinking liabilities. If Ruff had better options the veterans would likely sit on Sunday but depth isn't an organizational strength. The best Ruff can hope for is to minimize their impact.