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Game 53 Afterwords: When a Third-Period Comeback Isn’t

Dang-a-rang it, Dallas.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Dallas Stars
Tyler Seguin and his scoring wingers.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Blackhawks have played the Stars four times this season, and they have beaten the Stars four times. They have scored at least three goals every time.

As certain franchise legends have more or less asked...what happened?

Lots of things happened, actually! Maybe that is part of the problem. Certainly the Stars are great at making things happen, but it was better last year, when the things were different. As Razor put it after the first period, “Everything but scoring so far!” And when your team has the first two power plays of the game, that isn’t really a good thing.

The Stars would wind up 0-for-3 on the power play, as it turned out. Jason Spezza was not on the power play, but Dallas is a team chock-full of top centers, and they plugged Cody Eakin in on the first unit, and moved Jordie Benn back onto the second.

(I realize I’m fast approaching “curious fixation” with the power play personnel, but maybe that’s just because the penalty kill is beyond saving, the goaltending is likewise irretrievable, and the defense seems to have its best days ahead of it. What’s left to over-analyze, other than line combinations and power play units?)

Anyhow, beyond talent evaluation, I found it outright curious that the Stars would swap out a right-handed puck-lugger for a left-handed “tough to play against” guy. It seems like it requires playing a whole different sort of power play—not that this is a bad thing, in principle—than would, say moving Sharp up to the top unit. But then, I suppose Sharp’s prowess was needed down on the second unit (they’re due for a second goal of the year any day now!) and Esa Lindell is not quite ready to steer the Niña or the Pinta just yet. I remain fascinated at the internal logic behind Lindell vs. Benn on the second power play.

In any case, the power play did get some good looks (Eaves had a chance on the doorstep that he just couldn’t find in time), but Lindy Ruff is tired of saying the team looked good or played well when they lose, which is good, because playing well and losing is an anomaly. If it happens a lot, then you are not playing well, somewhere. The Stars have had a few somewheres.

Corey Crawford has been a very good goalie for a while now, but even very good goalies can give up very bad goals, and that’s what he did early on. Radek Faksa made it 1-0 thanks to Crawford kind of just not goalie-ing correctly, and there are some pants jokes to be made here. If that’s what enforcing goalie equipment rules gets us, then I’m all for it. Can we force the netting in their gloves to be more brittle, too? I’d love to watch a goalie lost his gourd when a Weber slapshot just went right through it. Liven the game up a bit, at least.

Antoine Roussel bloodied Jordin Tootoo, which I consider full and complete continuation of retribution for a certain sucker punch that happened nearly 10(!) years ago. Never forget.

Speaking of retribution, Chicago got theirs early, as Hamhuis and Jordie Benn kinda mucked up a play that resulted in a goal by one lucky fan named Gustav Forsling. Wait, no, that’s a real guy. Sorry! They do this celebrity fan thing in Chicago sometimes where people come onto the ice and...well, I forget they were playing in Dallas. Perhaps you did as well. In any case, Dan Hamhuis and Jordie Benn couldn’t quite sort it out, and Forsling swatted a loose puck home on an unoccupied doorstep.

Kari would have such a doorstep a few times throughout the game, but he stoned Patrick Kane on one of Patrick Kane’s multiple breakaways that he had in this game, which is a belabored effort to point out that maybe this is not ideal if you are the Dallas Stars, is giving Kane multiple breakaways. After Lindell broke his stick on a one-timer, Kane took a puck in alone, but Kari stayed with him. Good for Kari, that time.

But the Hawks kept possessing the puck in the Stars’ zone, and eventually the well-known player, who is on the Hawks, as we all know, and his name, which I’m going to say as soon as Google will load...there we go...Gustav Forsling got off a slap shot that broke Patrick Sharp’s stick and glided into the top of the net past a hopelessly screened Kari Lehtonen. It felt like bad luck, but then, you can improve your luck on slapshots by not allowing them in the first place. That seems to work well for Chicago a lot, against the Stars.

It was at this point that the Stars’ earlier fruitlessness on the power play became stark. Chicago had adjusted, taken control of the game, and grabbed the lead. They would surely be getting power plays of their own, and against Dallas, that means goals. How would Dallas fight back against them? Well, you know how. Benn dug a dump-in off the wall, Cody Eakin gave it right back to him, and Benn made a slick backhand shot that went up and into the far corner. Then Tyler Seguin created a goal ex nihilo, which is good, because he was playing with Ritchie and Roussel, who are great guys, but who are like the poor man’s Chris Kunitz if he cloned him, then cloned that clone, then made those two clones taller and stuff and had them play with Seguin. Like that. Anyway, Tyler Seguin, who I should point out is 10th in the entire NHL in scoring despite playing for this team all season and not being loaned to Chelsea or whatever, created a goal, too, and he did so by intercepting a lazy pass by Gustav Forsling, who we all know and love despite his flaws. Benn and Seguin had both scored, and the Stars were winning in the third period.

I’ll just interject here to say that I was really critical of a couple things before this game: The line combinations and the absence of Julius Honka. It seemed a waste to have Seguin buried with bottom-six (in terms of production) wingers instead of putting the 14-91-18 line back together, but Benn and Seguin each chipped in on their respective lines, so I suppose I should eat some humble pie there.

The absence of Julius Honka is still mind-boggling, if you’re trying to win games with your best lineup. The Hawks are fast, they’re stacked with kids right now, and the Stars had not held them in check all season. Honka had a bad turnover against Toronto, and if that is still the reason he’s scratched, I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said.

It was pointed out to me that during this 2-2-2 homestand, Honka only played in the Stars’ two victories, in which he was a plus player both times and tallied one primary assist. I’m not trying to prove anything about Honka as a player, but I’m perplexed as to why he’s up with the big club if not to play in games like this. Is it a trust thing?

And hey, did someone say trust? Here was an interesting quote from the postgame scrum (bolding is mine, of course):

So, for the defensive pair that stewarded the third-period collapse, it seems Lindy Ruff sees stability and liability. Again, I don’t know how much to read into these sorts of quotes, since this is the same Ruff who doesn’t appear to trust Lindell consistently on the power play, and the same Ruff was also scratching him in favor of veterans earlier this season. But coaches have felt “safe” with Lindell for the last couple of years now, and that appears to have carried over, for now.

But yes, those meltdowns. Klingberg got caught puck-watching, Kane turned the corner, and Kari appeared to freeze, expecting a shot, allowing Kane to tuck it around him. Pretty obvious error by the Stars’ best defenseman (which he is) there.

On the second goal, there’s a little more junk strewn about the lawn.

Guess where the forwards are. You have to guess, because they aren’t in the picture. Uh-oh!

Klingberg’s gap on Panarin wasn’t good enough (due in large part to Klingberg having to race back to avoid being toasted again), and then Lindell got caught trying to decide if he could/should block the back-door pass to Patrick Kane (some of the Stars are aware that it is bad to leave him unguarded) or stick with Anisimov.

Lindell chose neither, which is sometimes a good choice, when it comes to eating junk food and not much else. He tried to get a stick in the lane at the last minute but he ended up having a front-row seat for Trevor van Riemsdyk’s putaway. Interestingly (I don’t know how interesting this is, to be honest) Curtis McKenzie, the backchecker above, overskated the crease in his own effort to guard Kane. So, in a way, both Lindell and McKenzie were focused on the most dangerous name. They just weren’t focused on the sneaky guy who would end up scoring the goal, because he was behind them. That is how people tend to sneak, you know.

Glowpuck reunion tour!

Anyway, Kari couldn’t find that puck either (all the chaos and whatnot), and Trevor did find it. The end.

I didn’t break down this play because it was fascinating in and of itself. It’s essentially just a few decisions that didn’t seem terrible on their own, but strung together, they cost the Stars a game they really couldn’t afford to lose. (Also, because the whole rush was started by an errant Patrick Sharp pass, and because maybe he was just practicing breakout passes for his soon-to-be teammates. Is this gallows humor? This looks like gallows humor.)

That’s how bad decisions usually happen in life, you know. It’s never “I’m going to go crash my car tonight and go to jail.” It’s usually “I’m going to meet my friends!” followed by “I don’t need a DD, gonna take it easy tonight!” followed by “hey, KARAOKE? You KNOW it!!!” followed by “I’m gonna have some good ol’ shots with my friends!” followed by “oh crap it’s midnight well technically it’s next day so automatically sober right guys hahahahaha well see you later one last drinks /tips cup to mouth /accidentally drinks car keys /falls off stool choking /ralphs /spends night at bus station

The Stars didn’t mean to wind up here. First it was just one departure, then maybe two, then whoops, there goes Nichushkin. Then an injury, then another, then everyone, then Jon Klemm, who really doesn’t need to be reporting his injuries anymore. Can we block his number or something?

So here Dallas is, with 29 games left. They have wasted too many of them, for too many different reasons.

There comes a point when reality is more important than how it came to be, and tonight felt like that sort of an arrival*. The maddening cacophony of those Hawks fans sitting behind you was the anthem of a conquering emperor. The Hawks haven’t missed the playoffs since Joel Quenneville started coaching them. It’s hard to blame them for being so arrogant, sometimes. I mean, arrogance is bad, and we should all be kind to each other at hockey games. But, I mean, you get it. They’re on the crest of what many writers say is a never-ending wave of importance as long as Jonathan Toews has anything to say about it.

The Stars are somewhere in the heart of that wave, being tossed around violently and senselessly. And no one is really interested in how they got there anymore. We just want to get out. It will probably take a little longer than we hoped.

*(Speaking of Arrival, I thought it was a great film. You should go see it!)