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Afterwords: The Best Loss of the Season

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When losing isn’t so bad, it’s probably because you did something good

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Losing that game in overtime, to a depleted and tired Lightning team no less, should have felt like a gut punch after the Stars struggled in the back half of February. But for some reason, this game seems huge for the Stars. I mean that in a positive sense, which is weird to say after a stupid overtime loss on a preposterous goal against.

You can talk about how the Stars did great things in Anaheim and just got unlucky, or about how they’ve deserved better in loss X or how they didn’t deserve to win in game Y. On Thursday though, the Stars didn’t earn or deserve anything so much as show what they were capable of doing when they had to.

For a team that’s been unable to come back late in games all season, this team charged back against the best team in the NHL. They absolutely cranked things up against a Lightning team when they had to and ended up scoring four goals and hitting the pipe thrice. That’s something we really haven’t seen from this club much at all, and to have Brett Ritchie kick off that 3rd period with his first score in over a score [of games] was just gravy.

Maybe the most remarkable thing about the Stars showing some resilience in this one is how many times Tampa fought back. The Lightning hit a post behind Bishop early in the second, and it felt like the roof was about to collapse on the heels of John Klingberg’s foolish play to put them down two men.

Then Tyler Seguin stepped up and reminded us that, oh yeah, he’s been the Stars’ best player all season. You hardly need me to recap everything wonderful about his work on the 5-on-3, his effort to draw the penalty on Yanni Gourde to finish it off, or his jubilant goal from Klingberg at 4-on-4. Tyler Seguin had a ton of Moments in this game, but that sequence was Top Center gravy on top of his power play mashed potatoes. (Aside: I think I would still be serving prison time for manslaughter if I’d tried to step into the rolling puck he put home. Razor was effusive in praising Seguin for that goal, as one absolutely ought to be. It’s top-shelf stuff.)

With around 11:00 remaining in the 3rd, the Stars brought everything they had, and Tampa was barely able to survive it for as long as they did. Ken Hitchcock moved Alex Radulov onto the Mattias Janmark-Devin Shore line in front of Stephen Johns and Marc Methot, and that unit proceeded to own the puck in the offensive zone in a way that I can only describe by plagiarizing game wraps from two season ago.

Stephen Johns in particular had a wonderful game tonight, which was all the more noticeable with Klingberg having some rough times (with some extremely bright spots as well). The Stars’ attack was coming from two different defensive pairings, and it was really and truly refreshing to see the Stars unleashing some offensive potency on a team. We’re not just talking about goals, here. The Stars brought presence in the third period, and the crowd felt it. If you were there, you surely felt the swell of the volume, the rising cheers during play, urging the team on. It’s a really special thing to experience, but it’s been a rare one this season, in this system. It’s fun to enjoy hockey.

Yeah, I really just don’t have any desire to dwell on the soft goals Ben Bishop allowed tonight, the Stars’ inability to capitalize on a too-eager Louis Domingue in overtime, or how Jason Spezza got a couple shifts with Benn and Seguin during the 3rd period push but barely cracked 11 minutes total. I didn’t particularly love Spezza’s game tonight, but it’s weird to hear Hitch or other folks talk about giving him chances to prove himself when those chances are so limited. But then again, I don’t feel like questioning the line combinations in this game, as whatever this team decided to do after 40 minutes seemed to work, and work extremely well. Sure, the Bolts were tired, and the Stars can’t empty the tank every single night; but you take heart from landing some solid punches on a big opponent, and the Stars haven’t been able to do that much this year, before tonight.

You take gifts as they’re given, and outside the world I try to inhabit wherein every Stars game is a sort of gift in and of itself, I saw this game as a particularly pleasurable one. Antoine Roussel, Remi Elie, Radulov and Mattias Janmark were getting to pucks and beating out icings they had no business getting to, and I suspect a more stoic Bishop doesn’t give up a soft short-sider to a rookie most days. If you’re Tampa, you’re grateful that you could capitalize during a couple of Stars breakdowns in the second period, because you sure didn’t have much else to look to outside of that ugly goal to open the scoring. (I’m not sure why all three of Hamhuis, Faksa and Pateryn were below the goal line, but I suspect Faksa and Hamhuis have already discussed that between themselves.)

It’s a little disingenuous of me to say, “Yeah, aside from those four goals though, the Stars were great in this one!” They were not, surely. Josh Bogorad intimated on the postgame show that the Stars probably deserved better, and yeah, I think that’s fair. An overtime win against a tired team is about right, given the uneven overall effort they put forth in this one, but a point is a point, and there’s nothing wrong with being cool with that, even if the other team was calling it a scheduled loss coming in.

I don’t know why the clock stopped, but I wondered if maybe the scorer’s table thought the play had been whistled, or expected it to be, and thus were a little quick on the trigger to freeze play without letting extra time run off. Yeah, about that. Anyway, it obviously didn’t matter in the end, despite Stamkos’s postgame screed about how injuries will happen if the play gets extended by three seconds without anyone realizing it (I think Stamkos more needed to justify his tantrum there, and I don’t blame him for that at all). Honest mistake is my take, but what do I know? Not much at all. I used to think penguins were like six feet tall.

Late in January, Gary Bettman told all the officials to just stop sweating the tape so much during goaltender interference reviews, and I wonder if that sort of laissez-faire attitude was a deciding factor in pushing Janmark’s goal over the hump Thursday. Certainly Seguin’s skate was, ah, not helping Domingue to maintain his position, as Jon Cooper was rather eloquently explaining to the officials after the call came down. There is a lot of frustration in the NHL about goalie interference, as the NHL (and the team officials who vote on rule changes) appear to have successfully fixed this whole thing until it became utterly broken. Goals seem to be the preference, these days.

And honestly, you just have to shake your head at overtime. The Lightning were clearly tired, clearly playing for a shootout, and yet the Stars had at least four stellar chances before the universe clicked Send in the karma PayPal account the hockey gods set up after Antoine Roussel’s goal against Minnesota a couple years ago, so there you are. Cory Conacher got absurdly lucky, but hey, I’d rather end a game with a crazy, one-in-a-million goal against like that instead of a rote Stamkos one-timer on a 4-on-3 power play. I don’t really like after-dinner mints either, but it beats the lingering taste of cold French fries in my mouth as I walk out of a restaurant.

I have nowhere else to put it, so a residual thought: Ghislain Hebert and Graham Skilliter were probably thrilled that they did not have to take direct responsibility for ending this game with a penalty shot call or anything like that, considering they laid a couple of decent body checks on players in regulation (accidentally, of course). This game was weird, and wonderful, and eventually, less wonderful. But weird is its own wonderful, and bad decisions make good stories. For my money (and I have literally dozens of monies), the Stars proved something tonight. Maybe not to you, gentle reader, but perhaps to themselves. You wouldn’t think playing against Louis Domingue would offer that opportunity, at first glance.

There are 18 games left. Dallas has a lot of work to do, but tonight was a nice glimpse into how fun those games might be. Coaches probably hate fun, I’d imagine, but that’s why they invented players. Most of those younger guys enjoy this weird old game.