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Game 82 Afterwords: Finally Over

But even in joy came more pain.

First, go read Brad’s recap. It’s great, and it captures the experience of the game really well, particularly with his note about press box giggling.

Now then, here is how the boys looked heading into overtime:

Well, yeah. That pretty much says it all. The Stars did, technically, win the game. But they did so in, had this game come early in the year, what can only be described as an extremely hapless fashion.

Jason Spezza and Devin Shore turned a 2-on-0 into a stopped Spezza shot (and rebound) by some goalie named Jeremy. John Klingberg turned a breakaway in overtime (he is good at these) into a 2-on-0 pass way too reminiscent of the 3-on-0 debacle that never even got shot on net.

Kari Lehtonen, meanwhile, played a great game. The Stars surrendered three goals. This, for the Stars (and Kari), counts as a good game, this season. Players tipped goals and screened goalies, and Dallas couldn’t score on a backup’s backup despite piling up chances left and right.

Part of that had to do with the personnel missing, of course; not all of it did. As rough as this season was from the start, injuries just can’t explain how bad this team was.

Through the first 41 games of the year, Dallas collected 42 points. Then, we figured, Benn and Seguin and Eakin and Eaves and Faksa and everyone started shaking off their earlier injuries, and things settled down. Dallas collected 37 points in the second half of the season.

Yes, that’s right. The Stars were a worse team in the second half than they were in the “Missing nine of our top 12 forwards and Klingberg is broken” first half. Yes, some of that is to be blamed on the trade deadline sell-off, but can you really say that losing Eaves, Korpikoski, Oduya, and Jordie Benn should make an otherwise-healthier team five points worse?

No, it shouldn’t, especially when you have worthy successors like Honka waiting in the wings. Of course, you’d have to convince the Stars that Honka actually would have, you know, helped them, which apparently no one in the org could do during the season. But that’s the price you pay for hanging on to a bucketfull of third-pairing defensemen for way too long.

I shouldn’t be bitter. Really, I just feel malaise. This season wasn’t heartbreaking like when you get dumped out of nowhere. It was more like when you constantly get ignored by that person you like, and each time you make an overt gesture of interest, they just scorn you a little bit more. Flowers? Refused. Grand boombox-over-head gesture? Window slammed shut. In the 22 games from the halfway point to the trade deadline, the Stars were a worse team (18 points in 22 games) than they were to start the year. Ruff said some coaching adjustments were made to simplify the system, and the changes were noticeable. Improvement was not.

That’s the problem, really. This team played Colorado at their lowest last night, and they barely scraped out a win. You have deep, deep problems when you can’t score on what this Avs team was icing last night. Maybe three goals is actually good for this year’s Stars team, though. Certainly it’s above their season average. That’s something to be nervous about.

The NHL is also run by fools, as the overtime no-goal showed. Remember, the GMs met earlier in 2017 to specifically discuss any changes to offside, and they decided, in their wisdom, that everything was fine as-is. Can you think of any earthly reason why skates need to be in contact with the ice to make that play “fairer” for the defense? I cannot. What it does do is slow the offensive team entering the zone, forcing players to drag a skate instate of just trail it. The result? Fewer goals. Which, as we all know by now, is not something the NHL actually cares about fixing, even as every other league on the planet takes drastic measures in the other direction. But then, this is the NHL. They’ll torture fans with another lost season just because their overflowing profits might be even bigger. Let’s give a big hand to the owners and GMs (though there are surely some dissenters in there) who are allowed to run roughshod over the better interests of the sport.

We’ll discover what injuries everyone had in the next day or two. The Stars as an organization are loathe to sound anything like a team making excuses, but I’d be shocked if we don’t get a litany of “this guy was dealing with that,” or “Eakin’s knee was never actually fixed, so we just threw a bunch of ball bearings in there and he somehow made it work for a while.” There have been allusions to personal issues as well, which can’t be discounted. Surely this season must have exacerbated any strain that was already present within the lives of players (and everyone else) on this team.

Tyler Seguin made a great one-handed tip (it was seriously great) to tie this game. Devin Shore scored his 13th goal of the year. John Klingberg showed that yes, he is the Stars’ next Zubov by scoring (I don’t care) his 50th point of the year after giving us all a lot of nervous tension earlier on. Remi Elie, for goodness’ sake, scored 7 points this season. Who ever would have predicted that? Julius Honka scored an overtime goal on a shift for the ages. Adam Cracknell and Antoine Roussel had career years. There are things to be grateful for this year, and now is the time to hold onto such things.

Still, Seguin also got a bit out of a position on an early goal, leaving the shot lane open. That’s not going to thrill his current coach. Players were left unguarded in front of the net, which is probably also Stephen Johns’s fault. Patrik Nemeth proved that the NHL will not let him score no matter how many shots he takes (he took eight shots on goal).

I don’t see how Niemi comes back next year. The coaches will be different (in the NHL, at least). Four years ago, Ruff ended his first season by coaching a surprise playoff team with Patrik Nemeth coming in to surprise us all with his solid play down the stretch. Two years later, Stephen Johns was anchoring a pair in the postseason. Now, we contemplate the future with both young defensemen’s confidence at a low ebb, to put it nicely. Jamie Oleksiak had his best year of his career, and he and Johns watched the season’s final game from the press box (though Oleksiak had a nasty cut on his face, so he may not have been able to go anyway).

Where do you go from here? The map isn’t clear, but there are a whole lot of “not THIS again” signs being held aloft right now. This game was painful, and even a shootout win felt like a disappointment, which is saying something for a team that forgot how to win after 60 minutes (let alone after 65) for the better part of a year. The Stars may not have their future cleared up yet, but at least we know they won’t be going down this same road again. Probably.