We’ve hit that point in the schedule where every game is going to be called a playoff game due to the intensity on the ice. A lot of that is a product of time – time that is winding down on the regular season, eliminating opportunities for each hockey team to bank points away. It’s also a product of the schedule. The back part of the schedule for many teams seems to be heavy with divisional play. Points stolen from opponents within the division can result in a four-point swing for the team that wins in regulation.
Of course the intensity is increased at this time of year.
For the third game in a row, the Dallas Stars had a very good opening period, playing with plenty of pace and a lot of puck possession. That, my friends, is called a trend and can now not be dismissed as simple aberration. Unfortunately, as is all too often the case, the scoreboard wouldn’t reflect the way the game was going by the end of the first 20 minutes.
Again, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. Dallas spent a good majority of the first period in the offensive zone. They generated a 11-5 shots on goal advantage. Devan Dubnyk was great when he had to be, and given the number of times Dallas was right on his doorstep, he had to be great to keep the Minnesota Wild from digging an early hole. While Ben Bishop wasn’t tested all that much, he came up with several big saves as well.
Basically, the first period felt and looked a lot like a playoff game between these two clubs. That makes it at least somewhat unsurprising that the game was scoreless after the first period.
The second period was much like the first but with the added bonus of some special teams play.
Dallas opened the scoring first thanks to several shifts in a row where they were absolutely buzzing in the offensive zone. After a big save by the Wild goaltender, the Stars kept the puck in the zone. Miro Heiskanen moved it to his partner Roman Polak, who shot it towards the net. Andrew Cogliano was right in front and was able to tip the shot and redirect it past Dubnyk between his body and the post.
It was Cogliano’s first goal as a Star, playing in his fifth game since being acquired by Dallas on January 14th. Prior to tonight, he had scored just three goals in 45 games played with the Anaheim Ducks. He’s already well above his pace from earlier this season and has honestly fit in well with the team so far.
The refs finally called the first penalty of the game after Cogliano had Zach Parise skate into his stick with his face. His stick was at shoulder height, so of course it’s going to end up a penalty. Since Parise came up bleeding from the hit, the Stars had a four-minute double-minor penalty to kill less than two minutes after opening the scoring.
For the first 3:25 of the penalty kill, the Stars put on a clinic. They had sticks in lanes and kept Minnesota from ever really getting setup in the offensive zone. Mattias Janmark was sprung for a shorthanded look. The first two minutes of the penalty kill the Wild didn’t even register a shot on goal, and they even iced the puck due to the pressure of the forecheck from the Stars.
It only takes one defensive breakdown when down a man for the good work to be erased. Dallas lost coverage on Brad Hunt, who blistered one right through Bishop to tie the game with just 24 seconds left in the four-minute power play. That’s how the period would end, making it a 20 minute contest between Central Division teams fighting for playoff positioning down the stretch run.
Of course, Bishop and Dubnyk kept the game entertaining that period too. Both had some absolutely stellar saves to stymie the opposing forwards.
You’re probably wondering why this sentence isn’t “the Stars turtled and then lost the game due to an overabundance of not wanting to lose.” Fun thing the team has started to do in tight games of late is to not do that, and instead look for more offense.
Tyler Seguin was the one that finally put one past Dubnyk to give the Stars back their lead. His shot was so hard that Dubnyk tried to hold it in his equipment but it squirted right through and into the back of the net as he fell over from the force of a moving object hitting his relatively still form.
He capped off the win with an empty net goal, allowing Dallas to beat the Wild 3-1 tonight.
*I am really liking the energy that the Denis Gurianov – Roope Hintz – Brett Ritchie line has. Those three are noticeable on the ice together nearly every shift. They’re fast and they go hard at the pucks every time. Their speed is a breath of fresh air and has definitely contributed to the much better play the team has had of late.
*Head coach Jim Montgomery at the beginning of training camp preached being relentless on the puck. We saw it for the first stretch of games, and then it got lost somewhere between game 20 to game 45 or so. One thing the Stars have done well here lately has been their play when they do not have the puck. When the opponent has it, they are swarming the puck carrier and getting active with their sticks to force turnovers. The results are starting to show for themselves, and the confidence in the team here these last few games has shown on the ice.
*Alexander Radulov is riding an eight game goalless streak. He has collected four assists during that span, though.
*Tonight marks the fourth multi-goal game for Seguin since the calendar flipped to 2019. It’s almost like he wasn’t going to shoot at a career-low rate forever.
*After tonight’s game is factored into his stats, Bishop will be rocking a 0.925 save percentage, same as his old goalie partner in Tampa Andrei Vasilevskiy. That’s tied for second best in the league right now behind Robin Lehner (New York Islanders), though I’d give Bishop the tie breaker as he has a better goals against average than Vasilevskiy, making him the second-best goaltender in the league. That is an observation I never thought I’d get to write about a Stars goalie…ever.