Harken back to February, Dallas Stars fans. Back before the wheels had completely come off this season, and the Stars went on their last road trip to California, which started in San Jose with the Sharks. It was February 18, and 27 seconds into the game, the Stars were already behind.
The Sharks scored four times in that first period, and the Stars went on to lose the game 5-2. They won two nights later in Los Angeles, but that was the last time they won on the road this season. That’s also the game that they lost Ben Bishop to injury, so everything about it was pretty terrible.
But let’s stop dwelling on six weeks ago. Let’s talk about tonight, when potential disaster loomed, down 2-0 with not nearly enough shots on goal to generate any kind of offense, the Stars instead turned it into sweet victory.
The Stars have had worse first periods, but it’s honestly hard to remember one. They were out shot 18-5, had two goals against, couldn’t score on the power play, and lost their starting goaltender. Shall we break that down?
The first ten minutes weren’t actually that bad. Momentum was pretty even, shots were pretty even, and both sides had some good chances in front of the net. You can actually track exactly when everything started to swing the Sharks way, and that’s right around the time that Marc Methot took a roughing penalty against Melker Karlsson.
Methot gets called for "roughing" on this hit on Melker Karlsson. pic.twitter.com/q9WbfP77Yf— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) April 4, 2018
Given the NHL’s definition of a roughing penalty, I’m not sure if this one applied. If you’re not going to call it elbowing (which you can’t, because his elbow didn’t make contact) and you’re not going to call it boarding (which it’s not either), then this shouldn’t have been a penalty. Which means the Stars shouldn’t have been on the penalty kill when they lost their belief in themselves. Or their mojo. Or what have you.
Either way, Logan Couture scored on the ensuing power play and that’s where things began to go awry.
Six minutes later, in 5-on-5, the Sharks won a face-off in the Stars’ zone. Brent Burns passed from the top of the zone and Timo Meier threw it on net from an impossible angle. It’s one that Kari Lehtonen would probably like another shot at, especially since that could prove to be his last goal against this season.
Timo Meier makes it 2-0. pic.twitter.com/0EdZMqr8vB— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) April 4, 2018
On the next shift, Lehtonen went down in the crease after taking a puck to his upper torso. As of the writing of this recap, the injury was only described as an upper-body injury. However, that meant that Mike McKenna, current Stars backup and erstwhile AHL starting goaltender, got his chance in the Stars net.
There isn’t the time or space in this recap for a full history of Mike McKenna, but he’s a good puck-handling goaltender, and he closed out the first period with some huge stops on Burns.
The second period was not nearly as exciting, which is brutal with the late start for folks in the Central timezone. At the ten-minute mark of the second period, each team had only one shot on goal for the period. Just one. McKenna had some good moves, and Martin Jones might have fallen asleep as he didn’t face much from the Stars.
Of course, one shot on goal for each team still had the Sharks at 19 and the Stars at six, so it still wasn’t a good look for the Stars. The Stars did manage to get six shots in the second period to the Sharks’ 12, but the best news is that McKenna was more than able to handle everything the Sharks threw at him.
Not so with Jones. His wake-up call came with thirty seconds left to go in the period, in the guise of Jamie Benn:
Jamie Benn at the back door makes it a one shot game. Gets it past Jones to make it a 2-1 lead for the Sharks going into the second intermission. pic.twitter.com/Y4ouapBlqn— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) April 4, 2018
That goal was Benn’s 30th for the season, a mark he’s hit four times in his career, most notably in his Art Ross season in 2014-2015.
By the time Gemel Smith scored the game-tying goal in the third, the Stars had 10 shots on goal to the Sharks’ one. Perhaps their game plan really was, as Craig Ludwig said on the broadcast, to lull the Sharks to sleep before they struck.
Well, it worked. Devin Shore drove the puck to the net, passed through the crease to Smith, who easily beat Jones for the goal. Two minutes later, with only three minutes left in the game, Benn did what Benn does best.
Jamie Benn commits highway robbery on Tomas Hertl and it's 3-2 Stars. pic.twitter.com/5VQOdxP9Gd— Dylan Nadwodny (@dnadders) April 4, 2018
There was a full three minutes for the Stars to let the Sharks tie it up again, but instead Benn got the empty netter for the hat trick. McKenna faced exactly one shot in the third period, which, it should be noted, he had zero problems with. And let it not be overlooked. Yes, Benn came through with the necessary offense to win the game, but he wouldn’t have been in that position without McKenna’s help in the second to keep the scoreline within reach.
Imagine McKenna taking some games on that terrible road trip? What a different outlook it might be for the Stars now.
It’s not the ending fans wanted for the season, but it’s always a good time for a win on the road.