ANAHEIM, California (Ticker) -- The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim slayed another giant.
After sweeping the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in the conference quarterfinals, Anaheim built a three games to one lead against the Stars before dropping a 4-1 decision on Saturday.
The momentum remained in Dallas' favor as Kirk Muller scored his 33rd career playoff goal 5:10 into the first period. But with the contest tied at 2-2 after 40 minutes, Ruslan Salei netted the first postseason goal by an Anaheim defenseman 3 1/2 minutes into the third.
But Anaheim would not be denied as Ozolinsh whacked a rebound past goaltender Marty Turco late in the third to avoid overtime and send the Ducks to a conference finals matchup against Vancouver or Minnesota.
"When you get the tying goal, you don't want to give it back," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "We got caught in a shift change and the puck ended up in the net."
"It's hard to describe," Stars captain Derian Hatcher added. "You're losing, then you're tied. You score a goal and it's not allowed. Score a goal, replay, tie it, then you lose when they score with a minute left. It's somewhat of an emotional roller coaster ride."
Not even the Ducks could have expected to knock off the top two teams in the West in succession.
"It's awesome," Ozolinsh said. "It's great going to the conference finals. We beat the top two teams. We've got a lot of confidence for the next round."
"Surreal is an understatement," winger Steve Thomas said. "Beating Detroit was a big accomplishment. Now to beat the team that won the (Western Conference), it's amazing."
Ducks first-year coach Mike Babcock echoed Thomas' sentiments.
"The plan was to find a way to win and get the job done," he said. "It doesn't matter what you do or how you do it. This is beyond our wildest dreams."
Attempting to backhand the puck down the ice before going for a line change, Morrow fanned, allowing Mike Leclerc to gain control outside the blue line.
Driving down the right side, Leclerc unleashed a backhander from the faceoff circle that was kicked out by Turco. The rebound came directly to Ozolinsh, who put it behind the goaltender while drifting through the slot for his fifth career playoff game-winner.
"I was trailing (Leclerc) from behind," Ozolinsh said. "I thought he was going to drop the puck to me. When I saw him going wide, I went to the crease."
"I wanted to put the puck in the crease," Leclerc explained. "I saw (Richard) Matvichuk was moving slow and I put it in there at his feet and Ozo got the rebound."
In a series in which the team scoring first won each of the first five games, Dallas grabbed a 1-0 lead on Muller's first tally in 17 playoff contests.
After dishing to rookie Niko Kapanen from behind the net, Muller shook off a check from Adam Oates and went to the top of the crease. From the right boards, Kapanen made a perfect pass that Muller tipped past Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Samuel Pahlsson and Rob Niedermayer were stopped by Turco less than a minute apart by while Giguere denied Hatcher's shot from the bottom of the left circle with 61 seconds to go in the period.
With Anaheim shorthanded, Pahlsson took a feed from Niedermayer at the Dallas blue line and skated in alone on Turco. But the goalie never had to make a save as Pahlsson shot high and wide of the net.
Bill Guerin drew a slashing penalty 67 seconds into the second, allowing the Ducks to tie it.
Steve Rucchin blocked Zubov's clearing attempt at the blue line and the puck drifted to Ozolinsh. From the right point, the All-Star defenseman fed a streaking Thomas, who lifted a shot from low in the left circle over a sliding Turco at 2:25.
"We just find a way to win," Thomas said. "We push ourselves. It's up to each guy to bring their 'A' game every night. It's a credit to our coaching staff."
"You don't win a playoff series without deserving it," Guerin said. "As much as we're upset that we lost, you have to tip your hat to them. They could carry this thing right to the end."
Riding the emotion of a sellout crowd, Anaheim grabbed the lead just 1:58 later.
Jason Krog drove down the left side before Thomas knocked a bouncing puck into the slot. Rookie Stanislav Chistov picked it up and drifted right before whipping a shot past Turco's outstretched glove for his third playoff goal and a 2-1 advantage.
The Ducks had been held to one goal in each of the previous three games.
Jere Lehtinen nearly tied it on the power play, but his wrist shot from the right circle with 9:42 remaining hit the left goalpost and skipped across the crease.
The Stars got the equalizer four minutes later when Kapanen deflected defenseman Darryl Sydor's rising slap shot from the right point over Giguere.
Salei regained the lead for Anaheim at 3:22 of the third, taking Thomas' pass from behind the net and wristing it high to Turco's stick side from the inside edge of the right circle for his first career playoff tally.
"There's certainly a lot of ways you can look at the series. But the bottom line is we lost," Turco said. "We had our chances, but we didn't get it done. I wasn't able to come up with the big saves when we needed them."
Dallas appeared to tie it again with 7:58 to go when Barnes skated to the doorstep from behind the net and slid the puck between the pads of Giguere, who lost his stick.
But rookie defenseman Kurt Sauer caused the net to become dislodged as the puck crossed the goal line after being bumped by Dallas' Pierre Turgeon, a play reminiscent of the one in the third overtime of Game One, when Thomas knocked the net out of position on Rucchin's apparent game-winner.
After a lengthy video review, replay officials nullified the goal.
"I haven't seen a replay yet, but apparently the net was bumped," Barnes said. "It's frustrating. The puck went into the middle of the net. You wouldn't think that that would have much to do with (Sauer) bumping the net."
Instead of being discouraged, the Stars cashed in on a man advantage 2:47 later to draw even.
With Salei in the penalty box for tripping, Zubov made a hard pass from the blue line that Morrow guided past Giguere with his skate. The play also was reviewed, but the goal stood and the momentum began to lean in Dallas' favor.
"There's always doubt when they go upstairs," Morrow said. "I didn't feel that I made the motion to kick it into the net. I thought I redirected it. It was a pass that was out in front of me. I was actually trying to stop and put it back on my stick."
"If you are going to review goals, those are the times to do it," Stars center Mike Modano added. "You're going to have make 100 percent sure that those things count or don't count. The refs made the right decision."
A perenially clutch playoff competitor, Claude Lemieux got by defenseman Keith Carney in the Anaheim zone with 3:45 left, but Giguere stopped his sharp-angle shot from the right side to keep the game deadlocked.
"We're disappointed in here," Hatcher said. "We have a solid team that should have went all the way. But that's the playoffs."
"Lucky bounces," Modano added. "A lucky rebound that went through Hatcher's legs to Ozolinsh. It's been the way the playoffs have gone for us."