You didn't have to be Grumpypants Brad to be feeling down after Chicago pummeled Dallas in Dallas last weekend. It was a demoralizing defeat of the worst kind, and it sapped a lot of the residual mojo from the Stars' own dominant defeat of the Hawks in the teams' first meeting of the year.
This season has been so strange. My brother mentioned the other day that he was asked how Dallas was doing lately, and his answer was something like, "Well, they had a really bad January...and they're the third-best team in the NHL." Fans have goldfish memories, but tonight was a big ol' Memento moment for the Stars, who suddenly found themselves gut-punching the almost-dynasty from the windy city right back in their overfull bellies.
It was a high-event start, and the Benn line went from surrendering an almost-breakaway (shut down by Seguin and Benn's defensive coverage) to putting the team up 1-0. A great Nemeth pinch to keep the zone really kept things moving, and the fabulous shot by Eaves was a warning siren for all involved. Tonight was not going to be Saturday.
Nemeth and Oduya, by the way, were quite solid. Mike Heika has mentioned a couple of times that he'd like to see the defense pairs mixed up in order to pair a veteran like Goligoski with one of the younger players. That's what ended up happening with Nemeth tonight while Demers was out with an illness, and Ruff seemed to like it just fine. Jokipakka only played three shifts in the third period (all early), and Jordie Benn only played two more than that. Ruff essentially rolled two pairs and three lines after the Hawks' second goal of the period. I doubt Demers slots back in differently than where he's been all year, but it was still nice to see Nemeth getting the third-most minutes on defense (23!) without getting embarrassed.
By the way, the Patrick Sharp tribute was very touching. It was simple, just a bunch of career highlights with backing music. I think there was an Oduya tribute as well, but I didn't see it, and I can't imagine it was quite as heartwarming as the one for Sharp on account of Sharp's having been there almost twice as long.
For the Stars' second tally, you had one of the top-scoring defensemen scoring a goal by backhanding a puck off maybe the top defensive-defensemen in the NHL. Klingberg's backhand wasn't sizzling, but it was from a high-danger area, and boom. 2-0 ten minutes in, thanks to a lot of players from Europe.
In all fairness, the Toews cross checking penalty on Jamie Benn was a bad call. The boards made it look worse, but that was really just a shove that drew the first power play of the game. Nonetheless, the suddenly dominant Stars got multiple chances, and a spectacular no-look feed by Seguin found Eaves in front all by his lonesome for a very familiar-looking goal (Spezza's goal from Mr. Mustache last week was almost a carbon copy, in fact). That made it 3-0 with a power play goal, which was, ahem, satisfying. One certainly wasn't read to get greedy, but with the way the Stars had outskated the Hawks through most of the opening frame, it wasn't unreasonable of you to ask for more.
It wasn't all offensive prowess from Dallas, however, as a late-period Nichushkin turnover in the neutral zone led to Patrick Kane streaking in on Lehtonen all alone. Lehtonen didn't fall for the shoulder shake by Kane, however, and made a huge stop to keep momentum at least largely on Dallas' side. It would not be the last time Lehtonen made a huge stop.
That save (and a subsequent wrap-around stop as well) set the table for an even more unlikely event, as a stunning Roussel move to gain the blue line on a rush was followed by a feed to a streaking Sharp, who was hauled down by Teravainen for a late-period power play. Dallas won the faceoff, Klingberg fed Seguin for a quick-as-a-flash slapshot, and Eaves batted in the rebound for a hat trick before the first period had ended. Improbably, Dallas had shattered Chicago's glass jaw before anyone had even eaten a Powerbar.
Chicago got its first power play soon into the second, though, thanks to an equally soft call on Roussel as the one on Toews in the first. Thankfully, the Stars finally managed to do the whole "sticks in lanes while being in good position" thing, and they survived.
The second period? Well, the second period was a Chicago interjection with a sufficient Dallas rebuttal. Great team defense, and better individual defense by Kari Lehtonen, whose defense matters more than anyone else's. Unfortunately, Travis Moen was lost to a lower body injury, and it sounds like he will be out for a little while. That is too bad for Travis Moen, and we hope he feels better very soon. He is a Dallas Stars player!
The third period started with a beautiful Jordie Benn impression by the fundament of John Klingberg, which took an already-deflected Duncan Keith shot and redirected it past Lehtonen to snap the Stars' second shutout effort against Chicago. That was the catalyst the boys in red needed, it turned out as Kari Lehtonen then had to crank things up a notch, making a huge stop on Keith (again) after Quennville put Kane and Toews together. After Niklas Hjalmarsson beautifully broke up a Benn/Seguin 2-on-1, Lehtonen again had to be sharp, stopping Teravainen on an odd-man rush. His later stop on Shaw off a broken play in the defensive zone also ranked up there with the "keeping the game properly separated"
The Hawks pushed their hardest as the third wore on, and it would be the Hawks' own superline that tallied the second goal off a faceoff win by Toews against Eakin in which Kane found himself all alone with the puck at the top of the circle off the draw, ripping a screened shot past a helpless Lehtonen. And it was only through Lehtonen's astute vigilance that a rather bogus Kane-drawn power play for Chicago didn't bring the game to within a goal shortly after that with nine minutes to play.
From there (and since the 3rd began, really) it was all Chicago, all the time. I am not joking about this:
That is Score Effects Gone Wild if I've ever seen it--and boy did Kari Lehtonen ever see it. The Stars' OG Big Finn would face 21(!) shots on goal in the final frame, and he turned away 19 of them. This was high-level goaltending, and it gave Dallas the famed "Special Teams and Goaltending" monopoly for the night. I believe Lehtonen has something like a .940 SV% in his last two starts. That is good.
You can be concerned about how the Stars didn't exactly shut the game down with a 4-0 lead in the third. That's not unreasonable at all, even when you're talking about the reigning champs with a shortened bench and a pulled goalie for the final 3:30 or so. Dallas isn't great at boa constricting hockey games, and that means a bit of indigestion for our fellow fans with sensitive stomachs. But it never turned into full food poisoning, and for that we are very grateful. K-A-R-I spells RELIEF. (I hope we don't get sued for typing that. Attorney Saul Goodman has not been returning my calls.)
But if you're Chicago, you're 1-2 against Dallas in the season series, and they have three games in hand with which to surmount your single-point lead. Your starter got chased with four goals, and you only managed a false-hope rally in the final 20 minutes of the game. Dallas isn't a complete team ready to stomp anything you throw at them (especially if it's blue and white), but they're on the cusp of being the best team in the West again. That's delightful. This game was delightful, mostly. This season has been delightfully imperfect, but tonight was a night to revel in the good things, such as Patrick Eaves's mustache.
"what’s it like to be rescued from the wilderness?" pic.twitter.com/zV2re00SEO— ♪ Amy ♪ (@DalSportsGal) February 12, 2016