If you wanted another high-scoring game from the Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs, you probably came away disappointed. Especially if you’re a Stars fan, and you watched the offense get shut down again and again by yet another backup goalie standing on his head when the Victory Green gets to town.
Let’s just get started and talk about it.
Jordie Benn and Dan Hamhuis lost Tyler Bozak in the first minutes and allowed a breakaway that Antti Niemi bailed out. Niemi looked sharp and occasionally heroic throughout the frame, keeping the team within one in spite of some pretty hairy moments.
Gardiner struck just before the 10-minute mark with a blast from the blueline that made its way through the traffic in front of Niemi’s crease. The goal seemed at least to shake the Stars awake; 13 of their 16 shots on net came after that first tally.
Jiri Hudler chipped in with a will, digging for pucks and making a series of good passes to give the Stars some good chances. Patrik Nemeth and Esa Lindell may have used their entire remaining SoG allocations for the year, and Lindell came tantalizingly close to tying up the game at 11:29, ringing one resoundingly off the post. (Fun fact, nearly half the Stars’ shots on goal came from defense this period.)
Our Gang ended the period halfway through a four-minute power play thanks to a double-minor on Nazem Kadri with 1:58 left in the period. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to seal the deal and went to the dressing room down 1-0, but leading in shots on goal 16-10.
The Stars started the period with 2:02 left in the man advantage, but once again the power play came up, well, powerless.
Then Antoine Roussel got too close to Matthews and went off with a hooking call. The Stars’ penalty kill bowed up and prevented the Leafs from extending the lead. The Leafs used the opportunity to start bringing up their shot total, and by the end of the period they would lead 27-23 in that regard.
The PK came up aggressive again when Tyler Seguin took two for holding against Bozak. But the team wouldn’t make it out of the period without giving up another goal; the Leafs got the second goal as they did the first, off a face-off win (this time with a Matthews deflection off Gardiner’s shot).
The Stars knew what they had to do, and with the benefit of a Zach Hyman holding penalty against Stephen Johns, Seguin did it. At the 16-minute mark, seconds into the power play, Ty-Lord slammed in a shot off the face-off win, and suddenly Our Gang was only one behind.
Less than a minute later, Cody Eakin broke his stick cross-checking Mitchell Marner, and the Stars were on the back foot once again. This time the PK got aggressive – a little too aggressive, as Adam Cracknell got called for goalie interference.
The Stars managed to kill that 5-on-3, only to come up with another when Radek Faksa got a (possibly phantom) call for playing the puck with his hand on a face-off. This time, Nikita Zaitsev got the two-goal lead back.
Not even another power play – this one from a Connor Carrick hook on Brett Ritchie – or the final 3+ minutes with an empty net could help the Stars get to overtime, though. With 40 shots on goal, they have only Segs’ power-play goal to show for it.
There were positives. Niemi stopped 31 of 34 shots and looked good enough to start on Thursday. Nemeth stood out in the good ways with what was probably his best game of the year. Eakin actually won some key face-offs. Hamhuis looks settled in, and Hudler looks at last finally, completely healthy.
Still, it was a deflating start for an excruciatingly important stretch of games. We’ll have to find out if the Stars can re-rack on Thursday in Ottawa.