The Anaheim Ducks flashbacks were the worst part.
Game 6, the freaking Trevor Daley game, a two-goal lead late in the third, and I dare you to find a Dallas Stars fan that wasn't certain, CERTAIN Dallas was walking away with the Game 7 victory. Too bad Devante Smith-Pelly ran the pile, tied the game, and with a little help, ran the Stars right out of the post-season. As last night's final frame against the Minnesota Wild inched along, images from Dallas' previous playoff appearance thundered through my head.
That wasn't last night, and this wasn't that team. Stout defending, solid goaltending, and just enough offense instead see the Stars Dallas-bound with a chance to wrap up their quarterfinal series in Game 5 on Friday. For perspective, that's the same opportunity the Washington Capitals have, ditto St. Louis, San Jose, and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Four excellent teams sharing one thing with the Dallas Stars: each team dropped a game that could have "omg turned the series."
Tampa Bay is missing Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman. When Detroit punched them in the mouth we worried the bubble might pop. St. Louis stole Game 1 in overtime and then watched the defending champs remember it's April hockey. San Jose? Sure they won two in LA, but as Game 3 proved the more-experienced Kings are likely better suited to playing on the road anyways. Washington is the safest, by virtue of playing the sad-sack Flyers (ducks a flying bracelet), but really, they're just Dallas Stars East.
While it is entirely possible one (or more) of these teams will find a way to collapse (I see you there, Joe Thornton), it's far more likely each will advance to Round 2. Yes, that includes the Stars. The same Stars we all wrote off after a calamitous Game 3 loss in Minnesota.
My point is that it's hard to close out a playoff series in the NHL. Parity is a real thing, as is pride. Nobody wants to head off into summer suffering the ignominy of a sweep, especially in front of their own fans. That doesn't excuse a flat-footed Stars team getting rolled in Game 3, but it should keep the lid on a little bit.
The 1999 Stars, our last Stanley Cup lost seven games. Since 2010, the eventual Stanley Cup winners have lost six, nine, four, seven, nine, and seven games respectively. As in, it's going to be a long ride.
To me, one of the most important outcomes from last night was the fact that our Stars tasted their first dose of real post-season adversity. They got worked over in Game 3, and for the first 10 minutes or so it looked like Game 4 was going to be the same story. They went down, twice. They were forced to rely on a 7.7% power play and to kill a 4-on-6 penalty in the game's final minute.
Spoiler alert: They won. Antti Niemi stepped in and gave the Stars exactly what they needed between the pipes. A trio of acquisitions brought to Dallas specifically to bolster scoring (Ales Hemsky, Jason Spezza, and to a lesser degree Patrick Eaves) all found the back of the net including twice with the man advantage. Johnny Oduya covered for Stephen Johns' wobbles, and the rest of the defensive unit was fine.
They won, they pushed the Wild to the brink, and in so doing displayed a promising level of maturity. Does that mean they're in the clear? No. Minnesota has been able to stifle the Stars' offense for long stretches this series and to exploit certain mismatches in the Stars' lineup. It's perfectly fair for fans to have concerns. It's also fair to expect those same fans to acknowledge there's a lot this team does well, and that they did not win the Western Conference by accident. This is a good team, and one that has been making adjustments all season.
Game 5 at home, away from the line matchups that dogged Games 3 and 4, should be quite a show.