DALLAS — Dallas Stars centre Cody Eakin skated the length of the ice, got around a sliding defender, closed his eyes and shot just before his stick got ripped out of his hands.
The top-seeded Anaheim Ducks can clearly see they are in quite a fight now.
Eakin scored on Dallas’ first shot of the third period, Alex Goligoski scored on the next one 1:22 later and the Stars beat the Ducks 4-2 in Game 4 on Wednesday night to even the best-of-seven series.
“Once I came around that D-man … I saw a guy and there was a lane,” Eakin said. “So, I just closed my eyes and shot.”
Even without captain Ryan Getzlaf, a surprise late scratch with an upper-body injury, and healthy scratch Teemu Selanne, the Ducks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead.
“It’s not often we get outworked,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “But I thought after that, the last 40 was as hard as the boys could go. They emptied the tank.”
The Stars, who got physical at home after a pair of one-goal losses in Anaheim to start the series, are assured of playing another home game in their first playoff appearance since 2008.
“All year we’ve been good at putting stuff behind us. Things haven’t been going well, we’ve been able to put periods behind us,” Goligoski said. “We just stuck with the plan, kept going, kept getting in their zone and it paid off.”
Game 5 is Friday night in Anaheim, and the series returns Sunday to the American Airlines Center for Game 6.
Stars captain Jaime Benn scored unassisted, his third goal of the series, off a faceoff 27 seconds into the second period. About 6 minutes later, Vernon Fiddler managed to get the puck in a small gap between the post and rookie goalie Frederick Andersen to tie it at 2.
Getzlaf took a puck in the face in the series opener and played the last two games with a half-cage to protect the stitches just below his mouth. It wasn’t clear if the upper-body injury was related to that, or was a different issue for the captain, and coach Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t elaborate despite being asked about it several times.
“It was a previous injury aggravated, but that’s all I’m going to say,” said Boudreau, who downplayed the captain’s absence being deflating. “In the first period, it made us come out and do whatever we had to do.”
Bryan Allen scored on a shot from just inside the blue line with 7:43 left in the first period.
Anaheim led 2-0 after Matthieu Perreault’s shot that hit Kari Lehtonen’s glove and fell over the goalie’s shoulder behind him. The puck trickled in with help from Patrick Maroon, the left wing who got the goal after talking about retaliation against Dallas after what the Ducks had perceived as over-aggressive play.
Just like Game 3, there were plenty of scrums Wednesday night.
With 2:10 left, Anaheim’s Corey Perry and Antoine Roussel got in some big blows before being separated and given 5-minute majors for fighting. It was Roussel who punched Getzlaf in the previous game.
There were also five 10-minute misconduct penalties in that closing stretch, and referees had to separate several groups of players when the game ended.
“That’s the type of stuff that’s their pushback, it’s our pushback,” Ruff said. “I really feel like we’re in a playoff series now.”
Eakin hit the post in the opening minute of the third period, but didn’t’ miss the go-ahead goal with 13:38 left. The raucous crowd was still in a frenzy when Fiddler backhanded a pass to Goligoski for a wrist shot that made it 4-2.
“I felt a little bit off. It was a shock on the first one, and the second one snuck by me. I was expecting (Fiddler) to pass,” Andersen said. “ They came out of nowhere in the second. We weren’t ready for their push.”
Andersen was then pulled in favour of Jonas Hiller, the veteran goalie who won 29 games during the Ducks’ best regular season in franchise history before a late slump that left him on the bench until that point. Hiller faced only one shot in his 10 1/2 minutes, and Boudreau said he would discuss the goalie situation his assistants before deciding who starts Game 5.
Lehtonen, who was 0-4 in post-season games before stopping 37 shots in Dallas’ 3-0 win on Monday night, had 21 saves Wednesday night.
“Being able to tie this series, it’s huge,” Lehtonen said. “I think we’re a confident group. … And even more so now.”