This was why the Dallas Stars signed Jason Spezza to that contract extension.
In a game that looked like it was going to be "one of those nights" in the first period, the Dallas Stars took a phenomenal individual effort from Spezza and turned it into an outright win of the Western Conference and Central Division regular-season titles.
Spezza's hat trick, including the game-winner with one minute left, gave the Stars a 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators and a first-round date with the Minnesota Wild. The first game will be Thursday at the American Airlines Center.
But it was the Predators who opened the scoring 19 seconds into the game when the Stars second line got running around in the defensive zone. Valeri Nichushkin lost Ryan Ellis at the right point, and he had a clear lane for a slap shot that beat Antti Niemi.
Things didn't get much better in the first period, although Niemi made plenty of big stops to keep things even. And after a brief Stars scramble to start the second, the Predators earned a 5-on-3 power play after a bad turnover from Cody Eakin forced a first hook, then a bad shape from the penalty killing unit led to a second hook. The Stars got through the two-man advantage but gave up a quick goal to Calle Jarnkrok on the remaining part of the 5-on-4.
Jason Spezza cut the Predator's lead to one a few minutes later with a very nice individual effort, coming down the right side and spanking a puck to the far post. And he made the most of a floating pass on the power play a few moments later to tie the game at two.
The Stars got a solid penalty kill midway through the third period, and it was honestly a fairly tight affair from both sides. The biggest roar seemed to come when the Washington Capitals wrapped up a 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues, giving the Stars their division and conference crowns.
But that roar intensified moments later as Jason Spezza got loose in the slot once again and turned a John Klingberg pass into a natural hat trick. The Predators tried to challenge the goal for offside, but there was no clear shot of Jamie Benn's feet in the same picture as the puck.
Bring on the Wild. The Stars will be ready and waiting.