I was wrong. The Dallas Stars won't lose in six to the St. Louis Blues after all. It sure felt like it for awhile as the Blues pounded on the Stars with the kind of animosity reserved for blood feuds.
The biggest story, enough to forget Dallas even had three goal scorers, was Kari Lehtonen. Two seasons ago, he was in the same situation...helping protect a lead in Game 6, only to see his team, and himself do their best to lose it. He found himself in the same situation last night. Except this time he won.
I've always been hard on Kari. I've even pseudo-questioned his composure. I may never stop, to be honest. I might always have my Kari skeptic card. But perhaps bringing in Antti Niemi wasn't just about someone who could take over Kari's job. Perhaps it was about knowing the team could still have a job without him; that it wasn't just Kari in net as backup after backup, created by incompetent goalie drafting and development, failed to make any difference whatsoever.
Goaltending is tough enough. But when you know a bad game will just end up in another bad game because you're alone in the fight between the pipes, that's extra tough. I say all of this to say that regardless of how game 7 is decided...I'm sorry Kari. I said I bet you'll never make it. But just look at you still holding on. You're still the one bruv.
1. Jan Sparks the Onslaught
MATTIAS JANMARK YOU BEAUTIFUL SWEDE, YOU!— SportsDayDFW (@SportsDayDFW) May 10, 2016
1-0, good guys. pic.twitter.com/OFX8PVZgE1
The first shot on goal turned into a goal thanks to some heads up defensive play. Blues fans will claim Janmark was "cherrypicking". Except this wasn't Tarasenko making a risky play at center ice where Dallas may or may not have retrieved the puck. It was Janmark using open ice with Valeri Nichushkin already in possession of the puck. I still don't think Nuke is a great fit for Spezza, but trio combos aren't zero sum. Janmark and Nuke provide Spezza the kind of legs he never had, which allows the line to pressure in different ways.
2. Meddler on the Roof
So far this series David Backes and Vernon Fiddler have both scored on their birthdays. Fiddler's parents flew in for the game too.— Amalie Benjamin (@AmalieBenjamin) May 10, 2016
Only 24 seconds later, Dallas would score via having an actual 4th line. With Colton Sceviour in over Travis Moen, and Patrick Eaves on Vernon Fiddler's right wing, the trio made some board work turn into nifty skateshifting by Colton who went cross ice for Fiddler on the roof deflection. This is why you play a quality 4th line. They don't have to score goals. Goals are the gravy. The steak is the part where they get time in the offensive zone, aren't a liability, and create a modest domino effect of possession to help drive better zone starts for the lines with better shooting percentages. Keep it simple. Keep it stupid. .
3. Fleeced Mode Engaged
All that line matching DAL is doing to limit his chances is working. https://t.co/V7VKks3CZU— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) May 10, 2016
One of the most surprising things about this series is how little I had even noticed Vladimir Tarasenko until now. You have to always respect him regardless of how "quiet" he may be because people shouldn't be that stupid, but it's a credit to Dallas that Ruff has been getting the matchup he's wanted all series. This is why home ice can be crucial in subtle but vital ways: Ruff gets to stick the Fak 'Em crew on Tarasenko more games than Hitchcock gets Tarasenko to avoid the Fak 'Em crew. However, that's not to say the second period was a monument of strategy.
4. Turtle Willpower
Dearest Annabelle, I write of victory on the battlefield. The volleys were overwhelming, but our resolve was strong pic.twitter.com/zyGEnmfYlB— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) May 10, 2016
Dallas played as bad a 2nd period was humanly possible. They all but telegraphed their strategy from jump street, icing pucks, making little effort to make plays through the neutral zone, and doing the "shell thing" all fans hate. Coaches hate it too, believe it or not. However, human nature is sort of the problem. If you're playing poker, you don't suddenly bet on every hand just because your stack is highest.
5. 3rd Pair, 3rd Period Blues
When St. Louis scored their first goal, it was on a shift Dallas must have been stuck in their own zone for what felt like five minutes. One of the biggest gaffes started with Kris Russell, who had all the time in the world, to make a lob pass over the blueline. Instead he softly wired it toward the middle of the blueline, which was easily intercepted. Jason Demers and Russell have struggled, but at a time when Dallas as a whole was playing despicable hockey, Demers and Russell managed to rise below mediocrity. Russell was a -27 in shot attempts while Demers was -24.
6. On to Game Seven
Well, I guess I can check in for that flight to Dallas tomorrow morning.— Amalie Benjamin (@AmalieBenjamin) May 10, 2016
This all feels like final exam time for Dallas. They've done the work. The're on home ice for doing the work. There's pressure, but no less on the other side. What's done is done. Here we are. Do or die for both teams. Dallas has the potential to move on to the Western Conference Finals. Or they can play golf. On to some stray observations
- I don't even know where to start with that 2nd and 3rd period. I'm cool with seeing Dallas steal a game since St. Louis stole Game 2. But woof. That was objectively terrible and not even "score effects" help explain it. That was certainly part of it, but Dallas players were fumbling pucks around, failing to make simple clears as St. Louis barreled down on them at mach 3.
- I've already praised Kari. If I had to pick another player it would be Mattias Janmark just because. He's diet Faksa, and yet is constantly forgotten. If only Spezza had a consistent right winger.
- Just kidding. Mostly. Nuke had an okay game, but he's still doing that silly perfect plan tomorrow playmaking of his.
- Okay, can we officially retire the "bring the kids up to replace Sceviour and Eaves" crowd? They're no longer allowed to speak until they write a proper essay on why this should be. I'd be happy to have Eaves on for two more years. He's one of Dallas' best possession forwards, can finish, and plays a real two way game. He was missed.