The Dallas Stars and the Florida Panthers came into game 73 of the season tonight in two very different positions.
For Dallas, they have a slim (and fluctuating) lead on those teams directly behind them out West competing for the two Wild Card positions for the playoffs. They’ve also got a slim (and fluctuating) margin between themselves and third in the Central as well. In other words, while their current chances to make the playoffs in most statistical models floated in the hockey social media world have them at 90%+ to get in, every point is still crucial: A) for not allowing that 10% or so to become the reality on the other side of the coin and, B) for playoff positioning — and first round opponent.
The 4-2 win tonight over Florida is huge for the team. They’ve stretched their gap on Minnesota to five points. With the St. Louis Blues crushing the Edmonton Oilers tonight, the win also allows Dallas to stay with two points for third in the Central. (Now watch that position be set on the last game of the season where Dallas just needs to beat Minnesota to take third in the division. How did that big of a game work out for Dallas last time?)
For Florida, they find themselves with the slimmest of hopes to make the playoffs. They had a more than five point deficit and three teams to jump to get into the last Wild Card out East before the game tonight. The loss in Dallas likely puts their chances at nearly zero, with the Stars all but eliminating them from the playoffs. They’ve now got an eight point gap between themselves and the Columbus Blue Jackets — and with the Montreal Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers still between them.
STREAK ENDS TWO MINUTES IN
The start of this five-game home stand has been hallmarked by a disturbing trend if you are the Dallas Stars. First they allowed a goal on the first shot of the game in the first minute of play in their eventual loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. Then it was Groundhog Day in the game against the Vancouver Canucks, another eventual loss, albeit of the shootout variety.
Tonight, with Bishop’s consecutive game time played without allowing a goal on the line, the Stars allowed a goal 2:11 into the game. It ended Bishop’s total streak time at 233:04 and 24th best on the NHL’s all-time list in that category.
At least it took them a little more than two minutes this game? Progress!
JAMIE BENN CONTINUES SCORING AT CRITICAL TIMES
For another game in a row, the captain of the Stars manufactured a late-period goal to tie the game. Down 1-0 as the clock wound down in the opening period, Dallas’ big three were reunited, and the results were nearly immediate. Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov had assists on the play as Dallas funneled pucks to the front of the net to generate rebounds. Benn set up shop to take advantage in front of Sam Montembeault’s crease, and that positioning combined with Seguin and Radulov’s puck movement created a good result for the home team.
A UNICORN SIGHTING
Ok, it wasn’t an actual unicorn, but it was a goal by the closest thing this team has to a unicorn on the roster. John Klingberg walked in from the blue line a few steps and then ripped a shot on net. With both Benn in front it almost appeared to hit him and redirect, but a replay from a closer angle showed the shot was just a seeing-eye variety by the gifted blueliner. It was his first goal in six games and gives him nine total on the season.
PENALTY KILL SADNESS
Though it has been a strength of the Stars all season, the penalty kill tonight was mediocre. They allowed a lot of traffic in front of Bishop, which ultimately contributed to a power play goal against. The tally tied the game up at two with less than five minutes to go in the second period.
THE BUZZER BEATING GOAL THAT WASN’T
The Stars went on a late-period power play in the middle frame when Hintz drew his second penalty of the game, this time a hooking. As the penalty — and the game clock — ticked off, the Stars got a puck through traffic to the front of the net. It was tapped past Montembeault as the buzzer sounded.
That led to a video review. Upon inspection, the puck crossed over the line about 0.2 seconds after the period had ended. That means the goal doesn’t count. It was a critical moment when Dallas could have re-established a lead heading into the third period, but instead the game remained tied and the Stars needed to win the last 20 minutes.
One trend that is a positive for the Stars of late, however, is the one where they’ve been outshooting (and out-chancing) their opponents. They outshot Vancouver 46-27 in a shootout loss in which they probably deserved a better fate. They outshot Vegas 41-37 in a close one. They crushed the Minnesota Wild the game before that, outshooting them 31-22 in the process. Tonight they outshot the Panthers 36-22.
The thing is, it’s not just been getting quantity of shots to the net in those games, either. Here’s how the quality scoring chances, per Owen Newkirk’s calculation, have shook out in those games:
Florida: 27-14 DAL
Vancouver: 30-18 DAL
Vegas: 24-21 DAL
Minnesota: 24-8 DAL
That’s some dominant hockey. They captured five out of eight points in those games, and continue to put some distance between themselves and the Minnesota Wild, the leader of the pack on the outside looking in currently.
FROM RADULOV, WITH LOVE
The top trio was really feeling it tonight, and head coach Jim Montgomery kept rolling them out together because of it. Radulov scored the go-ahead goal on a give-and-go with Benn after Seguin stole the puck in the offensive zone. While Seguin himself did not get a goal tonight (thus extending his goal drought to 10 games), he did tack on four assists in the winning effort. He’s doing all the things needed to help the team win hockey games even while he looks to get off his own personal slide of late.
THROWN STICK CONTROVERSY (AGAIN?!)
Maybe it’s not actually a controversy this time, it just made for a better headline. As the game time expired, Radulov took a pass in the neutral zone and skated towards the Panthers’ empty net. They had pulled the goalie looking for the equalizer via the extra skater. As Radulov skated in for the easy shot at the gaping open net, Mike Hoffman threw his stick in Radulov’s direction.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because Antoin Khudobin had a play last game in which he lost his stick on a poke check save on a penalty shot that led to controversy of whether it should be an awarded goal or not due to the play. It was interpreted as accidental on the ice and therefore the penalty shot goal was not automatically awarded.
Hoffman’s play was pointedly less savvy veteran move and more blatantly obvious chucking of the stick. Radulov was awarded the goal thanks to this rule from the NHL (rule 637 for those rule book nerds among us):
“A goal shall be awarded to the non-offending team if the goalkeeper has been removed from the ice and the stick or other object is thrown or shot in the direction of the puck and prevents an obvious and imminent goal.”
....BUT DID VALERI NICHUSHKIN SCORE?
No, no he did not.