Stars will learn from tough playoff loss

The Stars leave the ice after losing in overtime to the Ducks on Sunday. (USA TODAY SPORTS)

The Stars leave the ice after losing in overtime to the Ducks on Sunday. (USA TODAY SPORTS)

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:57 AM ET

DALLAS - The comment came from the winning locker room.

The Dallas Stars, surely struggling to digest Sunday’s what-the-hell-just-happened collapse at American Airlines Center, will want to take note anyway.

“We’ve said all along that we learn more from the losses than the wins,” Anaheim Ducks hero Nick Bonino said shortly after celebrating the game-winning, series-ending goal in Sunday’s 5-4 overtime triumph over the Stars in Dallas.

The Stars will eventually learn a ton from the Game 6 heartbreaker, when they watched a two-goal lead disappear in the final 130 seconds of regulation and then heard a hush fall over their home crowd after Bonino’s knife-twister only 2:47 into overtime.

Almost every kid learns a valuable lesson from placing their hand on the stove. Well, on Sunday night, the Stars tried to use the barbecue as a jungle gym.

Instead of a return trip to Honda Center for a Game 7 and an opportunity to knock off the top finishers in the Western Conference, their final memories of the 2013-14 campaign will be the agony of an overtime stunner.

“We’ll try to get better from it,” Stars agitator Ryan Garbutt said. “It’s tough to think about right now, but over the next couple of weeks, we’ll try to look at some positives and move onto next year.”

When the Stars are ready, there will be a lot of positives to look at.

And don’t just take it from me.

“That is a very good team we beat,” Ducks defenceman Ben Lovejoy declared after the thrilling finish to Game 6. “If they’re able to play like that for a whole season, they’re not an eight seed.”

The Stars had to scrap until Game 81 of the 82-game schedule just to earn that wild-card ticket, ending their five-year playoff drought.

Although their post-season stay ended in disaster, GM Jim Nill could be building something special in the Lone Star State.

If you watched the Ducks-Stars series, you witnessed Jamie Benn’s ascent from a really good player to a bonafide star — maybe even a superstar — in this league. A fifth-round selection from the 2007 NHL Draft, the 24-year-old left winger is the type of building block that hockey execs dream about.

You witnessed a young and inexperienced team make the kind of mistakes that young and inexperienced teams make. The Stars’ roster included a dozen guys getting their first taste of playoff experience and six spring skates is enough to know what to expect the next time.

Maybe most important of all, you witnessed the type of devastating defeat the Stars will use as motivation for years to come.

Hours before Game 6 at American Airlines Center, Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau — asked about Anaheim’s failure to finish off the Detroit Red Wings after claiming a 3-2 lead in their first-round series last spring — talked about the difference between cheap lessons and expensive lessons.

For the Stars, Sunday’s was oh-so-costly.

The key is to turn it into a long-term payoff.

With all of their key contributors — from Benn and his goal-scoring sidekick, Tyler Seguin, to the top defence pair of Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski to starting netminder Kari Lehtonen — under contract for next winter, the challenge for this speedy group is to make a habit of playing spring hockey.

If they learn from Sunday’s meltdown against the Ducks, they’ll be more dangerous the next time.

“You ask what I thought our team would bring? They brought the best they could possibly bring,” Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said after the season-ending loss. “I told them and I’ll say it again, I was damn proud of the way they played. I was proud of the way they competed.

“It’s a fun team to coach, it really is. Embrace this, because we got some good players that are pushing through. My job now is to make them understand how hard it is to repeat it and to get better.”


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HILLER OR ANDERSEN?

The Anaheim Ducks’ attackers answered the bell with two goals late in regulation and another early in overtime en route to Sunday’s series-clinching victory over the Dallas Stars.

The answer to their biggest question, though, might have been the guy watching the offensive fireworks from the other end of the rink.

Ducks netminder Jonas Hiller, who lost his starting gig to rookie Frederik Andersen in the late stages of the regular season, pitched a 32-minute, 12-save shutout in Sunday’s relief effort, backstopping the Pacific Division champs to Sunday’s 5-4 overtime win and probably becoming Anaheim’s go-to goalie again.

Andersen, 24, was just average in the opening round, getting yanked twice and finishing with a .892 save percentage in six starts.

The 32-year-old Hiller, meanwhile, was flawless in 41 total minutes of cleanup duty.

“I don’t know what the call is going to be for the next games, next series or whatever,” Hiller told the Los Angeles Times after Sunday’s win. “Right now, I’ll enjoy it and kind of take that confidence or that good feeling about that one with me, and hopefully I get the chance to play again.” 


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