If tonight was a playoff preview, then the playoffs should be a lot of fun.
First, if we're going to give Jordie Benn his just deserts for the SHG last time around, then it's fair to say that the Stars' top defense pair pulled a couple of gems out of their proverbial hats tonight. John Klingberg put Dallas down early by trying for a stretch pass that was jumped from me to you. A Ryan Ellis slapshot is a fearsome thing from the blueline, so kudos to Kari for gamely facing the shot. Good placement, bad giveaway.
(Incidentally, Ryan Ellis was knocked out of the game early with an upper-body injury that had to be the old "getting hit in the head with a shot from a foot away." Best wishes to Ellis.)
In fact, the Stars lost the special teams battle 0-2 tonight. The Stars' first PK was great until Sceviour and Fiddler got a bit too high in the box, allowing a pass through the slot that Viktor Arvidsson one-timed well enough to beat Kari. You can't relax in keeping shape on the kill, even with :02 remaining.
But as much as goals like those two sound like daggers in isolation, you are talking about the Dallas Stars. That means lots of 5v5 scoring, and lots of empty-net goals. And lately, that means a clutch PK. More on that in a moment.
I am very okay with an embellishment penalty on Weber for his little inchworm move after he basically whiffed on hitting Faksa and got a lovetap from Roussel. I am very not okay with the lack of the same on James Neal for basically just falling down the moment he felt Benn's hand on the small of his back. James Neal has been fined $2,000 for diving before, and he's also been known to elicit a rather unpleasant response from officials for his antics. All I can surmise is that the officials truly didn't want to make a diving call twice in a short period of time, and that they rationalized it as a sort of makeup call for something else (or just thought Benn grabbed him and made a leap of faith, I guess). In that vein, I will say that Janmark looked to have hooked someone earlier, and that went uncalled; so maybe these things even themselves out.
And speaking of no excuses, the Stars' PK bowed up on the resulting 4-on-3, and it was quite a vigorous bit of bend-without-breaking by Kari Lehtonen and friends. The cacophony of "Ref, you suck!" chants from the crowd lent a certain weight to the proceedings as well. The Stars' PK has gone from "it is bad" to "it is not bad at all!" in a pretty short span of time. If that trend continues starting in game 83, things are looking up indeed. Colton Sceviour and Radek Faksa have been not insignificant parts of that improvement, from what I've seen, but let's go ahead and give the whole crew an Attaboy, eh?
All told, Dallas got what they needed when they needed it tonight. Kari out-goalied Pekka Rinne (with the aid of half a dozen posts and his stick shaft), and Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza out-fancied Mike Fisher on their respective high-quality chances. That's how you win these sorts of games. It's called the art of learning how to bend without breaking, which is the opposite of the art of Roman Josi's hockey stick collection tonight.
Alex Goligoski's bacon was saved and turned into a Taco goal on his giveaway, for what it's worth. After Lehtonen bailed him out by stopping Mike Fisher, Goligoski was able to pass the puck to a teammate (this time), and Jason Spezza used Valeri Nichushkin as a decoy for a slick little toe-drag-n-shoot for his 30th of the season. Do you think Spezza goals against Nashville actually taste better, or is that just my imagination?
Oh, and a big Hail and Well Met! to the James Neal Welcoming Committee of Jordie Benn and Stephen Johns. I'm assuming someone made a quick jaunt into the future through a rift in the time/space continuum (AKA Ales Hemsky's garage) and saw just how much Neal would end up deserving such treatment, but either way, good for the big boys.
And as for big boy #28, the Johns shot from the blue line that trickled through Rinne was one of those plays where you want to give the officials a medal for not blowing it dead. However, since no one could quite get to the puck before it was swept off the goal line, I'm less inclined to forge one. Still, I love those situations when the puck is sitting behind the goalie. More of those, please.
The power play was negative-1 for 3 and looking progressively less lethal by midway through the second period, and it struck me that the Klingberg giveaway-turned-shortie may have killed their mojo a bit. It was too bad, really, as the man-advantage was making the puck sing early on. They still had their moments as the game progressed, but I think they would agree that they stopped shooting more readily than they ought to have done.
The Faksa goal was wonderful, and you should watch it again if you're so-inclined. Radek Faksa just torched Ryan Johansen in their race to the net, and Antoine Roussel shot the puck off the far pad exactly like you're supposed to in that situation. Execution is a beautiful thing when it, well, happens.
As for our resident Interviewee, Val was looking extra purposeful in a good way for much of tonight, though without much result. Well, until what appeared to be a non-offensive bit of one-handed retaliation was called cross checking to send him to the box. Tough break for Nuke, as I didn't see a penalty there, but Kari stood strong, including a wonderful stop on a wide-open James Neal to help kill it off. Did I mention that Lehtonen out-goalied Rinne tonight? Yes, I did, but it's worth saying again.
This contest was the four "F's" if you think about it: Fun, Frenetic, Physical, and Frankly, it was almost like a playoff game. The action was surprisingly good for a Perds team that loves to send 0.25 forecheckers and play the trap, and the energy in this one early on really does speak to Dallas's transition speed as well as their defense's ability to break up the cycle and turn the puck north again. And the abundance of scrums (including a Patrick Eaves fight(!), which, given his injury history, had me holding my breath and then some) made for a good edge to the whole thing. You were locked in, watching this game. You could hardly be otherwise. It's getting to be that time of year, and games matter for the best reasons this time around.
St. Louis won again (forgive them; they don't know any better), but Dallas is now in very good position to get home ice, and that's something to be happy about. There are a lot of things to be happy about right now, really. This one below might be my favorite, just because using +/- to sing Goligoski's praises seems appropriate and hilarious all at once. Dude is playing tons of minutes on the kill and the power play for this team, and this might finally be the year when it all means something for him.
Lehtonen bailed out Alex Goligoski on the one giveaway but here was Goligoski's line: Two assists, 24:39, plus-5.— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) March 30, 2016