Valeri Nichushkin is a huge asset in games like this one. Even though he didn't score, it's a boon to any line to have a young, powerful forward with the size and instincts of Nichushkin on their line. You can just see him being the type of player that ends up killing another team in a playoff series, right?
It wasn't really the traditional "steal" of a point, but Antti Niemi continues to make Jim Nill look like he got the answers to the GM midterm ahead of time. I'm not sure you could really ask for any more than Niemi has been giving the Stars this year, and tonight was a perfect example. On the road against a dominant team, and Niemi puts them in a chance not just to get to overtime, but to win the whole danged game in 60 minutes. Sure, his shootout wasn't great, but shootouts are also the worst. Besides, he still gave his team three different chances to win. It's just too bad that Colton Sceviour, John Klingberg and Jordie Benn couldn't abuse Jake Allen's glove hand as well as some of their comrades.
Speaking of the shootout, you'd have to be shocked by two* absences: Hemsky and Nichushkin. Usually players are chosen based on their practice performance in the shootout, so perhaps the two second-line wingers simply failed to acquit themselves during their opportunities outside the game. Still, it's a bit odd to see them left off the short list, and even the long list, Hemsky in particular.
*I'd add Colton Sceviour's going before Spezza to that list, but, you see, Sceviour had scored a goal already in the game, so clearly that means he is temporarily better at shootouts than Jason Spezza. This is how hockey works.
The only reason Dallas was even in the shootout was because overtime was bonkers, with Sharp getting a wide open backhand swatted aside by Kevin Shattenkirk (it was going wide, for the record) merely the most notable of many good chances. It's a pity the Stars couldn't pepper Allen more, but you can see the Blues' defensive mindset coming into play even 3v3 with their deliberate zone movement, collapses before their goalie, and how thy stayed measured on the rush, mostly. Niemi had to come up big, of course, but the Stars were finally the better team once four players came off the ice and the refs stopped awarding power plays to St. Louis.
No point griping about power plays, but it's tough not to wonder what could have been if either Demers (late in 3rd period) or Spezza (in OT) had gotten the calls they felt they had earned. I would say it was odd of the zebras to refuse to even penalty calls up a bit, but that would be ignoring Tim Peel's history of catching one by surprise. Hooray for surprises! And it's more than fair to say that the Blues deserved more power plays in principle if not by way of actual things done.
Ryan Reaves might be surprised to find out that Nichushkin, whose nameplate he checked out of sheer cheek, already has more career points, and it's not close: 48 to 35. Nichushkin is 20 years old, and I honestly could not have told you what team Ryan Reaves played for before this game happened. Oh well, I guess it's good to see the boys having some fun together on the ice.
My most fun moment of tonight was a tie between Hemsky's goal-saving play late in the second period (This is your Regularly Scheduled Reminder that he's actually a good two-way player) and Jyrki Jokipakka's Stickless Defense of Dynamite. Honestly, you should go back and watch him go about his business sans twig with ~six minutes left in the second. Hockey is a silly game.
Sceviour's goal was nice, by the way. It bonked off the bottom of the bar from an almost (but obviously not) impossibly tight angle. There are a lot of ways not to score on that chance in tight, but Sceviour has scored himself some goals. It was particularly nice to see him convert the chance after Jamie Benn took a fairly nasty hit from some guy named Ryan Reaves after he made the first pass to Eakin (who did well to touch it right back down to Sceviour).
This really did feel like game one of a playoff series, though not one I would particularly wish for. Thankfully, tonight's match illustrated just how tough it is to gain ground in the NHL. Dallas is seven points (and five ROW) ahead of the Blues. Plenty of time for things to change, of course, but that's a very sizable lead for this time of year. That sort of margin can make shootout losses pretty palatable.
Just before Seguin's goal, I had commented to my brother that it would be nice to see Tyler score a meaningful goal against a tough team. Not that he hasn't done so before, but it's just felt like a lot of his tallies this year have come against the weaker opponents (which is also due to the schedule, of course). Well, cut to five minutes later and there's Seguin, ripping a shot past Allen from a not insignificant distance. That's a goal scorer's goal.
On the other side of the Battle of #91s, Vladimir Tarasenko had 7(!) shots on goal, all of which were foiled by Niemi. The Stars didn't exactly stifle Tarasenko's offense, but they surely had him in the "don't let that guy beat us" category before the game, so mission accomplished, sort of?
John Klingberg will surely be as happy as anyone to go right back at St. Louis tonight, as the match was rather a rum do for him. Teams are really squaring him up these days, so you can't do much other than hope he fights through it and adapts. You can also hope he puts on some weight and height and becomes 2004 Chris Pronger, I guess, but I don't know that you should count on it.
If Dallas wins tonight, the narrative changes in a hurry. Even so, I'm not totally embarrassed by tonight's effort or anything. The Blues were at home, and Hitchcock was matching up to kill offense. The Stars came up with a huge PK late, and Eakin almost tipped in a dagger goal with two minutes to play. Then a bit of a messy play resulted in the tying goal before Allen left the net (fortunately for the Blues), and we were left with the coin flip that extra time has become. As many ways as St. Louis had to win this game (and there were many), the Stars nearly walked into town and stole two points despite icing nothing like their best effort.
That may not sound like a lot to hang your hat on, but it's miles better than where this team has been for so many years in the past. St. Louis may have gotten the better of Dallas in two contests in Missouri so far, but the Stars have shown that they can scare any club in this league, even when the scoring chances aren't flowing. The Blues and the Capitals are the only teams in the NHL within 10 points of the Stars; it's not like that's a coincidence.