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Game 51 Afterwords: Toronto Gets Toronto’d

“But we got 40 shots on goal!” said the sad people from Toronto.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Stars are on a winning streak. Yes, they’ve beaten Buffalo and Toronto, which hasn’t been cause for celebration since the dark days of Donald Audette, but hear me out: this year, those two teams aren’t that bad! In fact, Buffalo has 49 points in as many games this year, which is both worst in the East, and good enough to where Buffalo could surpass Dallas’s current 52-in-51 point total by winning their two games in hand. The West is not a great conference this year.

And while you might also point out that the Leafs were missing Morgan Reilly, it wasn’t so long ago that the Stars were a high-octane team occasionally subverted by teams like a much worse version of Toronto. You know how it would go. James Reimer would make 40+ saves while the Stars would pile up shots, and we’d be left grumbling and moving on. This time, Dallas left little room for discontent, as the five goals in the first period can well attest.

Devin Shore opened the can with a Valeri Nichushkin goal, and that is exactly what it was. Blazing speed down the wing, turning the corner on an off-guard defender, and using a big body to protect the puck while sliding the puck (along the ice) around the goalie? The spirit of #43 was strong with the Ajax kid tonight.

In fact, it was strong enough to get the Stars a second goal right after the first, as the Stars’ third line (though any line with Faksa is the top possession line in a lot of ways) created another nice, quick goal. I don’t know where Patrick Sharp’s speed reappeared from, but I can only hope that its sojourn across the River Styx was eventful and will result in a great Facebook photo album. Concussions suck, man.

Brett Ritchie also got in on the goal party, and his backhand pass to set up Korpikoski’s nice backhand goal was a thing of beauty, but it would be reciprocated by Julius Honka on the Stars’ 4th goal. In fact, nice setups were a Big Thing this game, and even Eakin’s backhand from distance to set up Eaves’s breakaway was a slick little play, albeit a fruitless one because Patrick Eaves can only score on NHL goalies, it turns out.

Also, let’s not forget Dan Hamhuis and the keep-in move he did between his legs that led to the scoring chance. Hamhuis is just great. I don’t ever want to take moves like that for granted.

Stephen Johns was also great, and he led the team in ice time as Ruff seemed to roll a very “shut it down” sort of mix once the game was in-hand. You and I both know that that does not mean the same thing to this team as to most teams, but let it be, for now.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because when Frederik Andersen was making the skate of shame after giving up three goals in eight shots, you could practically hear Lindy Ruff begging his team to keep up the pressure, play fast, and be smart. Lindy Ruff’s message did not sink in very well, because putting the Dallas penalty kill on the job is about the furthest thing from smart that I can imagine, these days.

In truth, not every Star had a great game tonight. Even Jamie Benn only got on the scoresheet through something of a changeup shot that just got over a confused Curtis McElhinney’s pad (although full credit to John Klingberg for the silky setup). And for all of Tyler Seguin’s great work to create the chance for Spezza, it was only the weakest of shots that put the puck over the line for Spezza’s first goal in over a month. Goals are goals, and goodness knows Dallas will take them anywhere they are to be found these days, but it wasn’t quite the slice-and-dice that five goals sounds like it ought to be.

But still, there were three particular Stars that might not have loved that game. Julius Honka, while he did play a great game on the whole (that fake slapper to freeze Soshnikov before the setup to Ritchie was smooth), also dished up a turnover of the worst kind to Matt Martin. And while giving Matt Martin the puck is usually no more dangerous than giving your car keys to a labrador, Lindy Ruff would give Honka a good chunk of the second period on the bench for reflecting on his error.

Esa Lindell also didn’t fare well against the tough competition he faced tonight; his gap on Mitch Marner’s goal was about as desirable as wearing an actual item of clothing from the Gap would be while playing an NHL game. But still, Cody Eakin continues to fight the puck something fierce, and his penalty could well have turned the game back around for Toronto had not the Stars piled on a couple more tallies. I take no joy in cataloguing any of these struggles, but I continue to remain shocked at the coaching staff’s usage of a player in this big of a slump. It is officially remarkable, but we’re all rooting for Eakin to get back on track.

Kari did have to make 40 saves, and one of them was a contentious review. How would you have felt about a 6-4 game in which Dallas got only 1 shot on goal in the entire third period? That doesn’t scream “holding onto a lead” to me, unless it’s more of a withholding of taking the lead in a momentum sense. Dallas turtled, ooh man did they ever turtle, and their six goals held up. Mike Babcock was outcoached in the first period (or at least his team’s zone entries at that point looked like those of a team lost in space), but he re-tooled, and his team was fully operational for the final forty. Thankfully for Dallas, they weathered the storm when they had to, but they were hemmed in their own zone far too much for comfort in this one. Wasn’t there some hubbub about how a bigger defense corps would alleviate own-zone cycles? Yeah, still waiting on that to work.

On the reviewed goal, I’ll say only this: the puck was not kicked in by a skate, but is there any world in which a goal should be allowed because a player’s skate kicks (intentionally or distinctly or not) the goal stick protecting it? I do not find this to be a “good” goal, and I am not talking in terms of scoring validity. I am speaking Platonically. This was not the Good Goal that we saw.

So, the Stars chased a goalie, got a ton of scoring from their bottom six, got outshot 43-20, and scored and allowed a power play goal. This was a dominant game, for these Dallas Stars. There are 31 games left. Dallas can make the playoffs, but they will have to take every point that is remotely available to make that a sure thing. Tonight, they took two points that were offered at home. They will have to do this on the road as the season winds down. That may not happen, but we can’t control the future (yet). We can only be grateful that, for once, James Reimer didn’t ruin everything. About time.