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Game 78 Afterwords: How To Enjoy an Otherwise Meaningless Shutout Win

Everything is meaningless, or nothing is.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

I can’t imagine how tough this time must be for the Dallas Stars. From the GM on down, there must be an enormous sense of disappointment that never really goes away. But if there’s anything that can at least stave off the doldrums for a bit, it might be a shutout.

I know, I know. You’ll all say that Kari Lehtonen is great until the pressure mounts, and there’s no way to prove otherwise. He had the misfortune of spending his prime years plaing behind a sub-prime mortgage of a team, and when he finally started getting his shot at the playoffs, he wasn’t quite himself anymore. Maybe it was pressure, maybe it was just bad luck or injury, or both. But you have to feel good for Dallas’s Finnish staple after getting his latest shutout.

He earned this one, too. These Stars were not so unlike those teams of seven years ago. He faced an outright 3-on-0 (and Hamuis foiled another 3-on-1) along with a good amount of prime chances, and Kari stood tall. He did his job. And for a goalie whose future is a lot murkier than his past, that’s a beautiful thing.

After all, now is the time when players have to play for pride, in each other or themselves. Tyler Seguin said it a while ago when the Stars were at their lowest, and even if you’d rather see a slightly better draft position in favor of putting this whole team through another bout of misery, you can’t deny that losing sucks.

That’s probably why Lindy Ruff is scratching Stephen Johns, or playing Greg Pateryn on the pairing above Julius Honka, even though this time is, we often think, best used for development purposes. If putting Lindell on the top pairing (damn the torpedoes!) isn’t an investment, then what is it? And if these games aren’t primarily to put the future into tough situations when the nightly cost is nill (little joke there), then what is the point? Well, losing sucks. Lindy Ruff is still in charge for four more games, and he’s going to do what he thinks (damn the torpedoes!) he needs to do to win. He’ll help the kids along—certainly on forward, he has no choice but to put them there—but he’s not going to abandon his entire philosophy. If he’s not in Dallas next year, then he’ll plan to be elsewhere. Most NHL coaches coach until they can’t. Even Ken Hitchcock can’t stay away, if rumors are true.

And to go back to our earlier musings, even if Kari is somehow magically unable to withstand the pressure in big games, why is that his fault? Why are we justified in scorning him for being unable to do something? If it’s so axiomatic, some think, that he can’t play well in critical moments, then it’s clearly something hardwired. It’s not like he chose to have Game 7 last year, right? And still, we turn our sadness into anger, and into blame, and wrath. Someone must pay for our disappointment, so we pile onto the players that already bear the weight of their own impossible, lifelong expectations. You failed, moron, every fifth fan feels compelled to remind these guys on Twitter. You suck. These are (rather sanitized) examples of the fan mail players get, instantly, nowadays. Some of them are good at ignoring them, but would you? Stuck on a long plane ride, or in a hotel room on a long afternoon, would you not look at your exploding Twitter notifications, ever? These are kids who were groomed for hockey from a young age. This is at-hand customer feedback, and it’s either worship or contempt. How could anyone handle that for long?

The Hurricanes were outplaying the Stars for much of this game, but they couldn’t score. That’s the thing about this team, is that they aren’t the Stars. This year, that’s a good thing (though if they don’t make the playoffs, as seems certain now, their draft position will be even worse than Dallas, so that’s something), but they still don’t have the scoring nucleus that Dallas does. You can’t recreate Benn and Seguin and Spezza and Klingberg, even when that foursome isn’t having their best year. (Note: Seguin is still having a great year, and Klingberg has plenty o’ points despite playing beside Not Goligoski all season.)

Jason Spezza scored on a great shot, and it was beautiful. That’s Jason Spezza, cool older brother on full display. Remi Elie is, I believe, his kid cousin in this example. I, like Razor, am also curious as to whether his breakaway move was intentional or not. In real time, it looked like a five-hole attempt, but only Spezza (and probably Ward) knows for sure.

Jason Dickinson served up a pizza to some guy named Valmart or something, but he otherwise was fine. Dickinson should be around for while, but I sometimes fear that his ceiling isn’t nearly as Faksa-ish as we might have hoped. Nonetheless, he’s got the tools, and I’m bullish on him as a player. This season is not a good backlight for auditions.

Justin Dowling almost scored his first NHL goal, which would have been wonderful. I still can’t believe that we are officially watching Dowling, Smith, Shore, Dickinson, Honka and Lindell all play in the same NHL game. This is not how this season was supposed to go, but I suppose we ought to try to enjoy seeing these kids up and at ‘em, eh? Goodness knows they’re all capable of doing something special.

Speaking of which, I’ve been mulling over the defense more, especially after the broadcast was singing Lindell’s praises tonight. If the org loves Lindell this much, then your left side next season seems fairly jammed, even if Vegas takes Oleksiak or Hamhuis (I can’t see them taking Hamhuis, but who knows). The trouble is, I’m not sure if Jim Nill would be okay with a lineup of Klingberg, Honka, Hamhuis/Oleksiak and (at some later date) Gavin Bayreuther. That’s a lineup of speed over size, unless Johns-Lindell gets assigned as some sort of shutdown pair, which seems unlikely at this point. I’m not sure how it all shakes out, but you can see how adding someone like Karl Alzner into that mix would make it “feel” a bit more big-league. I’m not saying I agree with that, however.

Tyler Seguin played center, and he’s done that for seven (if I remember what Razor said) games now. Steven Stamkos was vocal (indirectly) about wanting to play center over wing, but we never heard a peep of protest from Seguin about playing wing. He always responded by deferring to his coach, but I can’t imagine he wouldn’t rather play center, all things being equal. This summer will have a lot of things going on.

I enjoy shutouts, even boring ones like this one turned into later on. The Stars’ defense has allowed fewer goals lately, and while it’s also meant taking every last bit of fun out of the offense (though Honka tried his darndest tonight), it has sort of been effective. Coaches can affect the game if their players listen to them, and clearly Ruff’s players still are. Tonight, Kari Lehtonen was glad they did, and I’m glad for him. Why not wish these guys well for one more week?