Thursday, April 24, 2014
"Great moments are born from great opportunities" - Herb Brooks
I have no idea whether Jamie Benn has seen Miracle. But, I also have no doubt that he doesn't need Kurt Russell's best Herb Brooks impression to remind him of how hard he has trained for this moment in time.
As fans, we can sit here and talk about the bright future for the Dallas Stars and how it is built around a 5th round pick from British Columbia, and how he appears to be ready to start a whole new era of excellence with his mates that could last many, many years.
But, athletes don't think like that. They know a few things about their careers - with the main one being that because of injuries, trades, or just bad luck, tomorrow is never promised. You hope to have a long career and a night like Mike Modano had a month ago, but the truth is that most of these guys can only see what is right in front of their face.
The present tense.
So, while we assume that the Stars have already achieved the status of "successful season" and now play with nothing but casino money, there is a real chance that Jamie Benn sees this as what he has worked for his entire hockey-playing life. He has never felt the adrenaline that he feels now, and therefore, telling him that this team should be ready for long and successful spring runs in 2016 is not very interesting to him.
He is here now. In the playoffs. Against a foe that is favored and is expected to contend for the Cup later this post-season, while the Stars are expected to be several weeks into their golf and jet ski vacations. The Stars don't need to win this series, because their future is bright. The critics will stand down if they lose this series.
But, if the performance of the Stars' captain is any indication, the only future that Jamie Benn and his team cares about right now can be fit between here and April 29, 2014.
They were down 2-0 after a period in Game 4, and the arena's delirium had subsided. We don't know how differently the game might have turned out if Benn didn't take over the moment with 0:27 expired in the 2nd period on an absurd face-off win that developed into a top shelf goal from distance that awakened the night, but thankfully, we don't have to know. He did what he did, and the night was never the same.
For Benn, it was his 3rd goal in the series, and that, along with the game-winner in Game 3, as well as a series of physical plays, opportunities, and moments that are everywhere, is serving as the ignitor of a Stars attack that appears relentless and full of confidence.
I can't swear that I was positive that he was proper captain material 2 years ago, because we sometimes misapply what that means. Can he speak with great personality? Does he offer team speeches that remind us of William Wallace? Does he break sticks when he gets mad? Or does he just grab games by the scruff of the neck?
Well, in Jamie Benn's case in his first trip to the post-season, it appears he turns games with that moment at that proper instant. See Game 3 and then see Game 4.
This series is really developing into a classic. The Ducks, despite their team quality that put them in the top-seeded spot in the Western Conference, have turned into a team that seems far more distracted with the distracting antics of two smallish, anonymous wingers that the Stars have used all season to whip teams into a frenzy. Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt were both deemed unworthy of draft picks as they entered the National Hockey League and available to anyone for a simple claim as recently as 36 months ago for Garbutt and 24 months ago for Roussel.
Depending on who you ask (and what jersey they wear), they either play the role of hard-working, salt-of-the earth, grinding wingers who are trying to make a living by never budging an inch to anyone; OR, they are cheating, obnoxious, pains in the rear that have no business in the sport. I will let you decide your perspective, without steering you in any particular direction. I do know this, for 2 guys that individually don't weigh 200 pounds, they are sure causing many larger men in Ducks uniforms to forget the object of the game. Which, of course, is to win by scoring more goals.
Instead, the Ducks, led by their coach Bruce Boudreau, appear to be far more taken with the exercise of exacting revenge against these two fleet-footed gnats for not respectfully stepping aside and allowing the honorable Mr Perry and Mr Getzlaf to play through to the next round. Who do these under-sized punks think they are? The Ducks have sent every heavyweight they have on the roster over the boards to chase down those two (along with Vernon Fiddler, Trevor Daley who both weigh slightly more than 200) and offer knuckle sandwiches that will surely silence this rebellion from Dallas.
The only problem is that this is exactly Dallas' plan all along.
Get the bigger Ducks' side to concede that they are being bullied by a smaller Dallas team that barely made the playoffs and are missing their most physical defensemen on their roster. How is it even possible to pull this off? Lindy Ruff seems to have (at least temporarily) made Anaheim think that Dallas is some intimidating physical force, despite not having a roster that has that personality at all.
The Stars are built on speed and transition and if they can get Bourdreau to believe that the game is actually won by putting slow-footed big guys on the ice (Patrick Maroon is the main culprit here as the Garbutt goal in Game 3 showed), then the game can open up and the Stars can find that one odd man rush that can turn the game. Or, in Game 4, the Ducks try to counter with their young, fleet skating group, and they get caught up ice for Cody Eakin's end to end game-winner.
With all of the gnashing of teeth all season long about no secondary scoring, suddenly the Stars have two lines - Roussel-Eakin-Garbutt and Sceviour-Fiddler-Horcoff - that are causing all sorts of issues for the Ducks who were likely pretty sure that limiting Benn and Seguin would win the series for them.
Instead, they lost the plot and have been thrown off their plan by #16 and #21 driving them crazy, even if Garbutt and Roussel have not seemed to have committed any crimes that are worth this much insanity. In a nutshell, it looks like Ruff is taking Boudreau to tactical school.
Now, this series is so much more than this. It is Kari Lehtonen out playing Frederik Anderson and making the goalie for the Ducks who appeared cocky in Game 1 and 2, suddenly look far more unsure of himself and rattled. The Stars have been peppering him with pucks that are producing rebounds constantly, and you wonder if he will get the call again in Game 5 - and if he does, how long will his leash be?
Also, Getzlaf's availability is now a real issue. He is a very tough player and the fact that he didn't give it a go in Game 4 tells us some very revealing information that he might not be ready by the weekend. Or, if he is, we can surmise it is not at the full strength of his powers.
Meanwhile, the Stars continue to ask the world of Daley and Alex Goligoski, with a combined 61 minutes of ice-time between them. Adding Brenden Dillon back in would be huge and we have no idea the status of Patrik Nemeth at this time, either.
The Ducks still have the home-ice advantage that they have earned, and the Stars still have to steal it away. Dallas has momentum, but we also know how many twists and turns are in the road in a 2-week war. But, the fact it will take 2 weeks to decide a winner is already enough to prove what some of us said before the series began - this is not a mismatch. The Stars are showing this is not some fluke or lucky moment. The Stars are, as a group of 20, pushing the Ducks hard.
You saw all you needed to see last night at the end of Game 4 when Corey Perry decided the game was over and decided to butt-end Roussel in a chance to grab a pound of flesh late in the game. Instead, he got more than he bargained for as Roussel ended up on top of him and landing punches.
Then, Boudreau orders Marc Fistric to go work over Garbutt at the end in the final minute. They were reduced to attempting to retaliate, rather than to bring the series to a close in Dallas by winning one or both games.
The Stars look like they are playing their game and the Ducks look like they are grasping for straws.
Will the plot hold in Game 5?
Will Ruff continue to own Boudreau? And will Roussel and Garbutt occupy Perry and Getzlaf to a point that Benn and Seguin can fill the net?
This series is now locked up at 2-2, and the countdown to Game 5 will be excruciating.
But one thing is clear. The golf clubs and the jet skis are not on Dallas' collective minds right now.