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Afterwords: Valiant Efforts

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The game was there to be stolen, but ultimately

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NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Put my footsteps on the pavement

Starved for entertainment

Four seasons of revolving doors

So sick of being honest

***

I’m starting to feel some creeping optimism about the Stars. Maybe that’s going to be the foolhardy moment I look back on next month when we wonder how things collapsed again, but maybe it won’t be. Maybe tonight was an indication of how things can go wrong, but still far from worthless.

This game was fun to watch, even during stretches where the Stars looked tired. They were tired, you know. The first period was frenetic, as the adrenaline had each team going hard and fast, each other exposing a gap in the other for a quick-strike goal. Then the game sagged, but then the Stars did something they haven’t shown an ability to do for a while, maybe years. They brought a strong, consistent push, and they generated enough momentum from pure willpower to tie the game.

They didn’t tie the game, of course. That stinks. Despite holding the fort for most of the middle portion of the game—Vegas is a much better team, after all—Dallas dug deep, relied on their strengths, and almost got themselves across the line.

Ben Bishop was out. Polák was rested with a nagging injury, as was Janmark after being nailed by a blocked shot in Minnesota. It could’ve been a slog, much like the last Vegas tilt. It wasn’t, at least not in the end. Tyler Seguin had the puck on his stick and an open net, and for the second straight game, he could hit the target. This was a tougher situation than the empty-net fiasco in Minnesota, sure; but the Stars needed this one even more, and it wasn’t there. Ah, well. Sometimes players miss shots. Seguin has hit more posts than anyone this season. If nothing else, I can look at that play, shrug, and say that...well, life kicks you in the ol’ wedding vegetables every now and then.

The first goal was such a kick, and a swift one. Esa Lindell had pinched in the neutral zone, and Ben Lovejoy played the resulting attack like a 2-on-1 but didn’t block the pass, and Pacioretty made it 1-0. You could criticize the Lindell pinch (I wouldn’t) or the Lovejoy gap (I would), but it’s a tough ask on your goaltender to give up a one-time shot like that before the crowd even finishes sitting down.

But, in a moment that presaged the end of the game, Dallas still had a chance to counter. Jason Dickinson was foiled by Marc-André Fleury’s glove, and yes, that also would be an issue on this night. I’m a bit over watching the Stars get beaten by that guy, who is also kind of a wonderful human being. His stop on Cogliano and Comeau was expected, but his glove on Klingberg was the real dagger. Klingberg knew full well he could have passed that puck off for the shot from the angle, but he shifted and shot it high corner hoping to catch Fleury cheating. He didn’t.

Roope Hintz did catch the overmatched Deryk Engelland, however. Hintz is just on another planet right now, as he skated right through a desperation hook by Engelland that drew a delayed penalty, and finally undressed Fleury at lightning speed. This season, maybe we’d call that Lightning speed.

That goal was huge though, as it got the crowd back into it, and the Stars woke up for the rest of the period. They needed that, as well as some great stops from Khudobin, just to make it through the first.

Going naught-for-five on the power play is a albatross around the neck, but the Stars’ first and last two advantages had their moments. Obviously those are the moments you look to when you lose, but the Stars also kept this game in hand—well, Khudobin did—such that they could’ve gotten points out of it even without the power play.

And by the way, that’s the other encouraging part of this one. Dallas drew five penalties to Vegas’s two, and that’s not something that happens when you’re being skated off the ice. The Stars had some mustard in this one, and it showed up in a lot of places.

Nichushkin drew one such call by keeping the puck and turning away from the blue line rather than dumping it, which drew a slash from Marchessault. Obviously there are good times to dump the puck in rather than retreating, but I really like how Nichushkin’s game has been so persistent even as his goalscoring drought has perdured. He’s not cheating the game, as coaches say, and that has him playing PK minutes and drawing penalties. No, that’s not enough to be a key piece on the team long term, but for where the Stars are, they have to spin some straw into gold, or at least some useful copper. If Nichushkin isn’t going to score to earn power play minutes, at least he’s paying them forward.

Dallas went zero for their first four advantages, but they would have one final shot on the power play after Taylor Fedun drew a (really late, Super Tim Peel Status) high sticking call on Karlsson. That’s where I got a little more befuddled by a coaching staff that had already been burned by putting Ben Lovejoy out to start the game against the Mark Stone line. After about 40 seconds of pressure in the zone, Khudobin finally was called to the bench just as the Stars started to generate something. Fortunately, the extra skater got a backhand chance as soon as he entered the zone. Unfortunately, the extra skater was Blake Comeau, for reasons I will leave to your imagination, and the shot sailed off into the inifinite abyss of our brokenheartedness.

Maybe this is more evidence of the Stars’ issues pulling the goalie and getting the extra guy out there as we’ve seen earlier in the season, and Comeau just took control of the situation to make sure things didn’t get too borked up. Or maybe this is a coaching staff doubling down on The Guys They Trust, to (I propose) their own detriment. Either way, I can’t imagine there are more than two or three forwards you’d like to see less in that situation. But then again, Dallas didn’t allow a goal with Comeau out there, so maybe we’re the ones playing checkers here.

***

  • Hintz nearly put Dallas up 2-1 earlier on a break with Seguin. Instead, the puck jumped at the last minute to send his effort just wide, and he ended up taking a penalty later in the shift. That was such a tough break, since the pass was right to his tape, and dollars to donuts, Hintz buries that puck if it doesn’t Patrik Stefan him at the last moment.
  • Khudobin scrambles so well while staying controlled. His pads and hands really coordinate themselves to an impressive degree, which is a layman’s way of saying that he is really good at goalie things. He had one particular sequence in I think the second where he made two quick saves in a row without losing his balance, which is extremely tough to do.
  • Khudobin’s save on William Karlsson’s penalty shot was nice, though it wasn’t a great shot. The play to set it up—a Karlsson breakaway and a fairly decent Esa Lindell desperation play that I actually wasn’t positive would draw a call—came after Klingberg failed to catch a puck with his glove at the offensive blue line. I can’t recall which hand it was, but for those still wondering if Klingberg’s broken hand has fully healed, that’s something to keep an eye on.
  • Comeau had a big shot block at end of first period that took him down to the ice. It was a nice moment for Dallas to rally around, and you have to think Montgomery and Co. look at moments like that when they decide which players are putting in the blood, sweat and tears. Those moments generate strong emotional memories when you combine them with that player’s reputation and responsibilities. We all have our favorites.
  • Faksa drew a pretty lousy hooking call by grabbing Colin Miler’s stick and falling down. Once again, Tim Peel bought it, but I include it here just to follow up the Eric Staal comments from last game. The Stars are not exactly Above Shenanigans.
  • Ryan Reaves scored a goal after Spezza, who now has one fewer goal on the season (as Owen and Sean said on the Carcast) couldn’t get a handle on the puck. Spezza couldn’t stop the puck along the boards, Lovejoy had another rough gap on Bellemare who got a clean one-time chance that Khudobin stopped, and Reaves beat Spezza and Nichushkin to the loose puck. That was a tough one for the Stars, any way you slice it.
  • Fedun also broke some hearts in Dallas with a one-timer off the crossbar with 7 minutes left. I suppose he doesn’t have Oleksiak or Ben Lovejoy’s reach, but being able to shoot one-timers like that (and skate to spots where you’ll get the pass to begin with) seems important, to me. Seems like a player you maybe should not scratch, I don’t know.
  • Enjoy these final 11 games. No matter what happens, this is the final handful for the 2018-19 regular season. Next year will be all weird with the looming expansion draft and having to say “2020” without irony all the time. This one’s been a slice.