Deadlocked, tied, even Steven. However one wants to characterize it, the Western Conference First Round series between the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars is all knotted up at two games apiece after Dallas won 4-2 in Game 4 at American Airlines Center on Wednesday night, meaning both teams have won twice on their home ice.
Now, the series shifts back to Anaheim for Game 5 on Friday night before returning to the AAC on Sunday for Game 6. Coaches and players on both sides now see the series for what it is, a best-of-three with the winner advancing to the second round.
"I think so (that this series is that close). It’s a best-of-3 right now. We’ve fought awful hard this year to get home ice advantage and I think we had the second-best home record in the league, so we’re going home and we’re going to be glad to be home," Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau said after Game 4.
First-year Stars head coach Lindy Ruff concurs with his NHL coaching colleague about this being practically a new series after four games, but Ruff knows if Dallas is to advance against the top-seeded Ducks that they need to win at least one at the Honda Center.
"It’s just starting from scratch. I look at it as we’ve got to go there and win a game. 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. It’s just focusing in on one game. We’ve done it all year and we’ll try to go there and win a game," Ruff said.
However, as the series moves back to SoCal, there are some questions surrounding the Ducks. One, will captain and hulking center Ryan Getzlaf, a late scratch for Game 4 with an upper-body injury be able to play?
And two, who will Boudreau go with between the pipes on Friday? Rookie Frederik Andersen looked out of his depth in Game 4 for the first time in the series and was pulled for veteran Jonas Hiller after allowing the Stars’ fourth goal.
Does Boudreau go back to rookie or does he stick with the veteran Hiller even though he struggled down the stretch, allowing three goals or more in his final eight starts of the regular season?
The answers to all those questions are TBD but all the Ducks players can do is now focus on the task at hand, regaining their advantage on home ice, something they plan on doing.
"I think it’s been back and forth, a lot of the games. It’s been a tough series," Anaheim winger Andrew Cogliano said. "But it’s best out-of-three now. That’s the bottom line. Now we get to go in our building and create the momentum there."
Dallas however is pretty set in terms of personnel and the Stars could get an added boost with the possible return of young defenseman Brenden Dillon to the ice on Friday. Dillon has been out since the final game of the regular season with a lower-body injury and if he is able to go, he not only gives Ruff another d-man who can log heavy minutes, but he also brings some additional size to the Stars blue line, never a bad thing when battling players like Getzlaf and Corey Perry of the Ducks.
One of the unsung heroes of Game 4 was Cody Eakin, who has been something of an underrated commodity since he came to Big D in a draft-day trade for Mike Ribeiro in 2012. Eakin had one of the Stars’ two goals in the third period on Wednesday as Dallas they pulled away from the Ducks in the final frame.
And the hard-working, gritty young centerman knows that now that it’s 2-2, the fun is only beginning.
"It’s a long series. There’s lots of time left. It’s best of three now and we’re focusing on the next game and continuing to play the way we want to, playing fast and playing hard," Eakin said.
The puck will drop for Game 5 on Friday night at 9:30 p.m. and of course it will be televised right here on FOX Sports Southwest.