DALLAS (AP) — When Dallas ended a five-season playoff drought, Lindy Ruff didn't look like a coach with 16 years of experience and plenty of trips to the postseason.
The often stoic Ruff acted like a giddy first-year boss building something new. And that's what he is for the Stars.
"I am so damn happy," Ruff said a few minutes after he shook every hand he could find behind the bench following a playoff-clinching 3-0 victory over St. Louis on Friday night. "Our team played awesome."
Hockey teams always salute their fans after the home finale, and the Stars got to do it with the promise of games to come for the first time since losing to Detroit in the Western Conference finals in 2008.
Dallas, the eighth seed in the West, will play either Anaheim or Colorado in the first round.
"Now it is just starting," said goalie Kari Lehtonen, who has just two career playoff starts, both with Atlanta in 2007. "We feel good about this and we know we can celebrate and have a good time. But then it's back to business and it's exciting."
Rich Peverley celebrated with his teammates on the same bench where his season ended a month earlier after he collapsed during a game because of an irregular heartbeat and had to be revived by medical personnel.
The shaken Stars won a night later while the 31-year-old was in the hospital, but a four-game losing streak followed, leaving the Stars several points out of the final playoff spot. They also had a 1-8-1 stretch in January.
Dallas scrambled back into the postseason race by answering the four-game skid in March with five wins in six games. The playoff-clinching win over the Blues capped an 8-4 stretch.
"I've been through those first-round series, and they're tough," Ruff said. "But we've hardened ourselves by getting into the playoffs by the route we've taken."
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