After back-to-back games in which the Dallas Stars offense was completely non-existent, the Dallas Stars were due for an entertaining game. In the friendlier confines of the American Airlines Center, their fans got exactly that.
The final regular season match-up between the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars was fast-paced, it was physical, and honestly felt like a playoff game. It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that these two teams could see one another in the first round, either. Right now it’s looking like it could be a fight between the Stars and the suddenly white-hot St. Louis Blues for the third spot in the Central Division, with the Minnesota Wild faltering in that second Wild Card position of late. Or the Stars could ride a skid straight into the slugfest that is the (current) five-team fight for the last Wild Card spot.
Isn’t hockey super fun this season?
At least tonight it was — for two periods, anyway.
Very early into this one the Stars’ captain Jamie Benn and PK Subban established their dislike for one another. Right after the very first whistle post-opening faceoff, the two traded some unpleasantries. They continued to jaw each other all night long, though they never took it further than that. In some ways that’s good, because Benn is a key player for the Stars. And a tiny part of me kind of wonders what it would look like if they had gone full-bore at one another early in this game.
Antoin Khudobin had some big big saves early on, especially on a point-blank chance.
Unfortunately, this just wasn’t one of those games where it was going to be a goalie duel like Khudobin had backstopped the Stars to in games past against Nashville. It started with the first goal against coming in the first period. Tyler Seguin had a very good shorthanded chance on the Stars’ first penalty kill of the game. He was plastered against the glass behind the net long after the puck had left Seguin’s stick, which could have been called an interference penalty. Instead, it sparked a rush the other way as the power play expired and the Predators opened the scoring off a Brian Boyle goal – the same Boyle who stapled Seguin to the boards.
The Stars did have a power play chance in the first period, which had a couple of good looks, but nothing was particularly dangerous. They finished the period down 1-0, adding another 20 minutes to the 120 minutes they entered the game with as time in which the team hadn’t scored a goal. The team, not just one player.
Dallas came out fast in the second period, continuing more of the north-south speed game the two teams had played in the first period. Jason Spezza tied the game early into it as a result, snapping a 19-game goal-less streak with a wrister over Pekka Rinne.
In a rare mistake displayed by the rookie blueliner, Miro Heiskanen tried to shoot the puck and ended up getting caught behind the play. Rocco Grimaldi would score on the breakaway chance he had to give the Predators their second lead of the game.
Dallas drew a power play later in the period when Dan Hamhuis went off for hooking. Then, the offensive flood gates seemed to open. Esa Lindell wristed one past Rinne to tie the game as the power play expired, giving Dallas the rare big-time goal when they needed it. Just 26 seconds later, Seguin finished off a play that started with a defensive-zone pass up ice to Roope Hintz, who carried it into the zone and left it for the joining Seguin to snap home for the Stars’ first (and only) ead of the game.
Not 20 seconds after that, Filip Forsberg would backhand one past a sprawling Khudobin to tie the game again, and the teams would head into the last 20 minutes with the score at 3-3.
Dallas took an early period penalty and were able to kill off the Spezza slashing infraction. It should have given the team some momentum, as the defensive side of the game (and particularly killing penalties) has been a source of good play for Dallas this season. Unfortunately, Heiskanen got called for an interference penalty after all sorts of plays like that had gone uncalled all game, and then Ryan Hartman got hit with the embellishment penalty to make the teams play at four aside.
Know who is really good at 4-on-4 hockey? Heiskanen. Know who was in the box and not available to play it?
Khudobin did his best to come up with some big saves, but Roman Josi stepped up and potted the eventual game winner with Heiskanen and teammate Hartman in their respective boxes. Dallas did eventually pull Khudobin for the extra attacker but couldn’t bury one in the 6-on-4 situation, and the Stars lost 5-3 in regulation after Josi shot from his offensive zone faceoff circle and netted an empty net goal.
It’s a game in which they really needed to find a way to get at least a point out of it tonight, especially when they so rarely score three goals in a game to begin with, but didn’t come up with one. Now they face the Blues on Thursday, who will enter the game having won 11 games in a row. As Jason Dickinson said after the game, the Stars need to find a way to turn their tide before the bevy of teams right below them close the slim lead Dallas now holds on the first Wild Card spot.
No better time to do that than by ending the Blues stretch – and hopefully turning it into one of their very own.