This is why you go ahead and beat the Florida Panthers when you're up 2-0 halfway through a hockey game.
The Dallas Stars started this game behind 1-0 thanks to the unusual circumstances, but were never really in it anyway through the first two periods as they capitulated early and often to another Eastern Conference foe, dropping a pretty ugly one, sans a strange third period, to the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight 3-1.
The Phoenix Coyotes are the ones that have the game in hand now.
Dallas' tired legs were evident from the word "go" tonight as they chased the Blue Jackets up and down the ice, finding themselves down 2-0 less than two minutes in when Artem Anisimov was left alone in the slot with the puck and Tim Thomas never had a chance.
Down 2-0 the Stars surrendered four of their precious with which to come back to a Shawn Horcoff high-sticking penalty, and the Blue Jackets made no mistake when Letestu beat Thomas for the insurmountable 3-0 lead.
The Stars needed an extra man in the first period to finally get their first real scoring chance of the game with less than three minutes to play, and still could not even remotely threaten Sergei Bobrovsky with a serious chance.
Dallas had only come back from a two goal deficit once this season, according to Razor on the pre-game show, and so down 3-0 at intermission it was all but a foregone conclusion.
The Coyotes didn't have issue with getting the Jackets to overtime last night. The Blue Jackets are the ones that played last night and traveled, too. Not Dallas.
So their advantage diminishes. Phoenix plays a defeated Nashville Predator team tomorrow with nothing to even try for, having been eliminated by Dallas Tuesday. The Stars must defeat the Coyotes in regulation Sunday, or else pray for help.
Tim Thomas started and looked unsure from the get-go, bobbling pucks and spitting rebounds into the slot with alarming regularity throughout. Should he have started the Florida game? Would Kari have then been fresh enough to take them the distance? An asinine guessing game, to be sure, but you have to wonder.
At any rate, he would not be pulled, as Kari Lehtonen needed the rest with two more winnable games against St. Louis and the season-deciding game in Glendale coming up on Sunday. So his final game with the Stars was his to finish.
The second period started with two minutes of power play time that produced a single, uneventful shot-on-goal, and then it was back to the Blue Jacket's show in front of Tim Thomas with stationary Stars players watching. And perhaps the most disconcerting part of it all was the fact that Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin kept taking shifts, but there was evidence or memory of them to be had or recollected.
There was just no energy, as predicted. Which is not a good excuse, as Columbus should have been more disadvantaged from an energy standpoint. Then again, four in five nights is rarely done in the NHL, and clearly the Stars were affected.
Benn and Seguin did not lead the way. Garbutt and Roussel did not energize. No one attempted a scrap, The passes were off. The puck was bouncing. Shot opportunities were passed up. Puck battles were lost. They just looked physically and mentally defeated.
Then things got weird in the third period. First, the Dallas Stars showed up and started playing some pretty quality hockey. Score effects, sure, but they were engaged, creating and moving their feet, evening up the shots.
A power play chance about eight minutes in was generating some action, and soon it became clear why. Lindy Ruff had pulled Tim Thomas. I looked from official to official for about 9 seconds before I could believe what was going on. There were no arms up. Ruff had simply created a two-man advantage for himself because he wanted to.
So a team that has not scored a two-man advantage goal this season (them and Buffalo) pulls their goaltender with 12 minutes left while the other team can shoot the puck at the empty net from their side of the ice with impunity.
And it worked. They scored.
Genius? Mad? Mad genius? It created life in the building and allowed them to finish with dignity, which is not entirely unimportant headed into an off day and a date with St. Louis on Friday.
A brilliant third period, but in the end they scored once and Columbus scored twice tonight. And the other one.
The good news, as you already know, if there is any, is that they didn't technically have to win this game. Sunday is still coming and it will be for all the marbles, in all likelihood, but with another one against the mighty Blues coming up it would have been nice to get a point for Pevs here tonight.
They're still alive. They still control their destiny.
They proved incapable of earning so much as a three-minute stretch tonight, but they have earned the right to control their destiny, so you have to give them that.
Buy some tickets for Friday and come on out. They'll need all the help they can get in the home finale against a superior Blues team.