DALLAS — Lindy Ruff has been around the National Hockey League long enough both as a player and more recently as a coach that he has learned to trust his instincts. So, when after morning skate on Thursday, the first-year head coach of the Dallas Stars was asked about facing an Eastern Conference opponent in the Montreal Canadiens after playing a wave of tough games against fellow Western teams, he admitted he was a bit concerned.
"Well, I told our team this morning I’m worried about the fact that we’ve gone through a tough stretch playing against tough teams, playing against the L.A.s and teams out west that have really been going well, physical teams," Ruff said on Thursday morning.
He also cautioned his team not to take the Habs lightly since they are a team with plenty of talent, speed and great goaltending.
"But we can’t let our guard down. Montreal’s got good speed. They’re a good transition team, good special teams for the most part. Carey Price can singlehandedly win a game himself and actually both their goaltenders have been excellent, so my message for them is not for one second to take Montreal for granted," Ruff said. "Just because we’ve got a team that’s out of the conference, don’t for one second think it’s going to be an easy game."
And the funny thing was that after Dallas took an early lead when captain Jamie Benn scored just over six minutes into the game. But after the Habs tied it nine minutes before the first intermission when Max Pacioretty, who was recently named to the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, scored the first of his two goals on the night as part of a four-point performance, the Stars seemed to be chasing the game the rest of the night.
Montreal then went ahead 2-1 early in the second and led 3-2 after two periods. That grew into a two-goal advantage early in the third before the Stars answered with two in less than a minute to tie the game. But that deadlock didn’t last long as the Canadiens scored the final two goals of the game to prevail 6-4, making Dallas 2-2-0 on their five-game homestand which ends on Saturday against Detroit.
Following the loss, Ruff admitted his words after morning skate about facing an Eastern team rang true in the loss.
"Parts of this game, I thought we gambled on the offensive side and gave up some real good chances that we normally don’t give up," Ruff said. "I thought we over-defended some situations and maybe you’re unfamiliar with a team. I was concerned after going through the stretch we went through with a couple real emotional wins that we might get loose, and we were loose."
Of course, one of the great things about the NHL is that redemption is often only a day or two away. And the Stars get their chance to finish the homestand on Saturday against another Original Six franchise in Detroit, who will head into the game with a few days off after losing to Toronto 3-2 in a shootout in the annual NHL Winter Classic.
The visit from Detroit will be game No. 41 for the Stars, putting them at the halfway point of the regular season. However, second-year defenseman Brenden Dillon isn’t worried about the season being half over. Instead, he’s focused on how he and his teammates can atone for their poor showing against the Canadiens.
"We know what we’ve got to do better," Dillon said after the loss to Montreal. "We can’t let this one get us down. We’ve got to keep ourselves up on this homestand we’ve got one more game to take advantage of."