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Game 41 Afterwords: Halfway There, Stars Still Living on a Prayer

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Five even-strength goals were required for Dallas to come out of the Great Goaltending Apocalypse of the Third Period alive.

Dallas Stars v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

So, when I ended last game with pining for a team that could outscore its problems, I may not quite have realized what I was getting into.

You have to hand it to the Stars: coming up with a big win against the team holding onto the second wild card is an impressive accomplishment. And if you knew basically nothing else at all about this game, then you’d probably be perfectly happy. Hooray for a win! That is what I love about sports, is winning!

Unfortunately, many of us had to watch that game, and “happy” isn’t exactly the emotion that springs to mind. I dunno, maybe it was the fact that both starting goalies were pulled after doing their respective impressions of frantically looking for buried treasure in a giant vat of angry zombie Jell-O. Or hey, maybe it was the fact that Cody Eakin and Antoine Roussel led the forwards in ice time at 19 minutes apiece, while Spezza and Seguin somehow only played—and this is real—13 minutes. Yes, the Stars didn’t spend much time on the power play, but yeah, putting Ryan Garbutt’s old linemates out for a third of this one might have made things a little more scampery than they necessarily would have been otherwise. Or, hey, maybe it helped. I am not even trying to guess after this one.

This was one of the first games at Staples Center I haven’t attended in person since the 2004-05 lockout, but as soon as I heard that goal horn on the broadcast to make things 4-3, I had nasty flashbacks to, well, a few games there, but one in particular. You might remember November 10, 2007:

In that one, the Kings scored four times in 3:13 to erase a 4-0 lead, and would eventually win in overtime. (And yeah, that game against Minnesota last spring was a little triggering, too.)

In this one Monday, the result was better. But does anyone really want to talk about the result in a 10-goal cataclysm that tipped the Stars’ way? Yes, of course you do. And that’s because Dallas really did need this game, as they will need so very many more games in the second half of the season.

Perhaps the weirdest thing about this one was that none of the Stars’ goals were really straight-up shots that beat a goalie. Peter Budaj actually looked remarkably solid halfway through this one, having stoned both Seguin and Sharp (among others) alone in the low slot. It felt once again like a game of missed chances that would come back to bite the Stars, because when you don’t score on your best chances, how many times are you going to score on your less-good chances? Well, it turns out a lot, this time. Here is how I would describe each of the Stars’ six goals in brief:

1. Carter pooches it to Korpikoski, Ritchie dunks it. I believe Carter was just returning the favor after getting some from Dallas earlier this year.

2. Seguin, being the first to recognize that Budaj is susceptible to pucks projected along the Z axis, boofs a puck off the Kings and over everyone’s head like it’s EA Sports or something.

3. Jamie Oleksiak, feeling vaguely guilty for not using his reach to hamper the prior shot against Kari, uses the same stick to blast a two-dimensional laser that Budaj does well to save, if not for what is a Derek Forbort then bumping the saved puck back behind Budaj.

4. Devin Shore assumes that it was probably the puck that just hit his skate after Radek Faksa was doin’ work behind the net, and Peter Budaj successfully whacks the puck away from Derek Forbort, probably, into his own net.

5. Tyler Seguin, now wise to how this night is going, just pokes the puck into Budaj’s skates and lets fate handle the rest. Jiri Hudler patiently waits for the inevitable, and the dunk is, of course, there. Derek Forbort is nowhere to be found.

6. Radek Faksa continues taking pucks from the bad guys and giving them to the good guys, and Patrick Sharp’s vision finally clears enough for him to see that, unfortunately, there is no longer a Peter Budaj to do the Stars’ work for them. He resigns himself to a bounce-pass, which goes in. The puck lodges itself behind the center post to make a statement that is far too unseemly to repeat here.

***

Special teams were pretty good for Dallas tonight, for about 25 seconds. The Stars killed a tiny li’l too much mans penalty after Jamie Oleksiak was whistled (a bit unfairly, I thought, but it was tough to tell on the broadcast) for touching the puck before his mate had hit the bench. Or at least they killed the first bit of it, as Jordie Benn drew a penalty on Muzzin to mercifully get the penalty kill back into the bunker.

When you outscore a team 5-1 at even-strength (and that isn’t counting Sharp’s ENG), you should really, really win the game. Dallas did, but only just barely, because tonight was a night where any time the Stars weren’t playing 5v5 hockey, the Kings were scoring goals. Kari Lehtonen borrowed Marty Turco’s 2009 glove hand, the Stars suddenly decided that letting the Kings have the blue line with possession was “really not that big of a problem anyway if we just contain th-”*OBNOXIOUS GOALHORN BLARES WHILE SOUTH PARK CHARACTERS PARADE ONTO KINGS VIDEO BOARD*

Teams have bad runs on special teams, and that’s fine. But whatever Dallas is doing lately is not fine, not at all. The Stars have surrendered 8 goals on their last 11 penalty kills. Yes, they’re missing one of their best penalty killers in Jamie Benn, but my goodness, isn’t that what some of these bottom-six forwards are there for? Mercy, this is getting embarrassing.

That fourth goal on Kari really was excusable though, in a vacuum. Hamhuis had gotten shoved into him, and considering how frazzled any goalie is going to be after that sort of disaster parade, trying to reset for a Drew Doughty bomb in that situation is a fairly hopeless cause. But Kari was downright bad tonight regardless, so there isn’t too much point defending the particulars. I am fairly certain that Lindy Ruff agrees with me, given that he pulled Kari from a tie game.

And by the way, both goalies were pulled in just the oddest of ways. To essentially strip Lehtonen of the decision at that point is uncommon for veteran coaches, so you know there is a message being sent there. And for Budaj to have been pulled not right after a goal, but just after a stoppage following a bit of a messy sequence? Well, that tells you all you need to know about how muppet-faced Darryl Sutter was feeling tonight. But what is he complaining about anyway? Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown scored, and their special teams were amazing. When your captains past and present are leading and your special teams are humming, what could go wr-*Peter Budaj, somehow stuck in the team’s Gatorade cooler, rolls tumbleweed-like down the locker room hallway*

Antti Niemi, meanwhile, was exactly what he needed to be for 15 minutes, which is to say he made (are you ready for this?) one save. Yes, for all of the Kings’ pressure (they out-attempted Dallas 80% to 20% in the third period at 5v5), they only managed to test Antti Niemi a single time, and he held the fort. Congratulations to Antti Niemi for winning the hockey game. Also, congratulations to Niemi for staying in after getting pretty flagrantly elbowed by Jordan Nolan, who “tripped” and then tried to stop his fall in the most uncommon method imaginable to any human who has ever fallen. Thankfully, Niemi was able to stay in the game, as Kari Lehtonen probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind to come right back in the game at that particular moment, I am guessing.

And hey, did someone say something about falling? Well, perhaps you saw Drew Doughty, whose programming took a second to fully digest Eakin’s retaliatory slash to his leg (as payback for Doughty’s hip check on Lindell) before running Dustin_Brown.exe and sprawling himself just all over the place. But hey, if it helps your team, you can’t really blame them for doing it, right? And somehow I doubt the NHL is going to look askance at a recent Norris Trophy winner, so don’t expect a fine or anything like that. (I went on to give some rather bitter and cynical recountings of past abuses against Stars players that have gone unpunished by DoPS, but I’ve deleted them. It’s late, and we’re better than that. Not much better, but a little.)

There weren’t a ton of genuine positives from this game other than the result. I thoroughly enjoyed the prolonged sequence in the third where Jamie Oleksiak’s stick was broken, and he was not given a stick right away. Oleksiak was tentatively maintaining his position in the faceoff circle as a board battle ensued, unsure of whether to leave the ice for a stick, when Adam Cracknell finally just came down and took his place and told him to go to the bench, and that is how Adam Cracknell went on to play defense and do nothing for seven seconds while the puck stayed enmeshed along the boards and Oleksiak got a new stick. Cracknell is a savvy veteran, at times.

Dallas was hemmed in their zone far too much to be happy about, and if you don’t think the Kings had their zone exit strategies scouted, I don’t know what to tell you. Dallas was fortunate tonight, but then so were the Kings. Dallas just happened to be the first one back out of the giant, slimy Double Dare Nose with the flag tonight. And maybe we should just be happy about the flag for now and worry about the slime in the second half. No pressure, Stars.