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Afterwords: Five Quick Thoughts on Surviving the Saddledome

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The win was huge, but so was the cost

NHL: Dallas Stars at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

I was higher than a biplane

Then you hit me like a hurricane

I bailed out, hit the ground

Washed up in a storm drain

***

We’ll have more after the Edmonton game tonight, but this game deserves at least a fly-by, so consider this an aperitif, of sorts.

1) Ben Bishop is a monster right now in the net. But as with most monsters, he is also somewhat unpredictable. His play has been unreal for most of the season (particularly since January 1st), but Anton Khudobin’s presence has been just as critical for the Stars’ season. If Jim Nill deserves some blame for all the goaltending solution mishaps for the first few years of his time in Dallas, then give him some props for signing Khudobin on top of Ben Bishop. The Stars, quite absolutely, would not be in the playoffs without him (let alone with any sort of confident backup plan given Bishop’s health).

2) Little things are important, but not all little things are created equal. Having energy and pressuring the puck is important. Finishing smart checks is important. Entering the zone with the puck, when possible, is important.

On the Stars’ two power plays, they attempted to enter the offensive zone five times. I counted three failed entries by the top unit, and two successful entries. Those entries were individual efforts by Alex Radulov (who scored after going through three people) and Jason Spezza (who casually banked the puck off the boards to himself to beat the defender and gain the zone on the possession that ended with Heiskanen’s goal). Much as Val Nichushkin brings value to the Stars in less intense or emotional ways than a player like Brett Ritchie, so also does Jason Spezza’s game right now bring things the Stars need.

3) Roman Polák is really fun to watch when he’s snarling and getting players outta the crease, net-front, and general vicinity of anything. I personally thought his penalty at the end of the third was a bogus call—it was a clear retaliation after a bad-faith encroachment on the prone goaltender. Polák does a lot of things without the puck really well. He did have a bad giveaway behind the net early on that almost negated the Stars’ 1-0 lead right after they got it, but you might as well resign yourself to the fact that Polák is the Stars’ go-to guy in that role right now. Enjoy the stuff he does well. That includes having a good laugh with his fellow Czech, Michael Frolik, after they initially got into a shoving match before (I think) realizing whom they were shoving. You can see why people rave about him as a great guy. The playoffs are coming, and it’s fun to root for great guys. On that note, let’s hope Justin Dowling gets healthy soon, too.

4) Alex Radulov is some kind of wonderful. Almost two full years into his career in Dallas, I keep forgetting that this guy is going to be 33 in July. He’s routinely the most dangerous forward on the ice, he makes plays at lightning speed, he outworks the other team on every puck battle, and he can drive you crazy while doing it. That first goal? Probably, as Razor said on the broadcast, a bad decision to try going independent contractor on the power play as the units were changing. But hey, can you blame Radulov for being a little Rogue Squadron when he has the skill to finish a play like that? (EVERY COACH EVER: “YES YOU CAN.”)

As with Khudobin, I can’t imagine where the Stars would be without Radulov. I genuinely can’t wait to see him play in the playoffs, should things proceed as expected. Give the Stars credit for this signing: they’ve gotten two fantastic years out of a 30-year-old UFA. That’s all you can ask for on the front end of a big contract like that. It helps that he’s just a joy to watch score, too.

5) I don’t really know what to make of the Flames. You can see their skill, but they are far from a complete team, from the net on out. While a matchup with them isn’t extremely likely (but also not unlikely) at this point, they’re still about as vulnerable a potential #1 seed in the West since...well, yeah. You know. Anyway, I’m saying the Stars really do seem to be able to handle them, even if they needed some strong work from Bishop to win this game while scoring (you guessed it) just two goals.

It’s hard to be anything other than soberly optimistic right now. Bishop’s injury, one hopes, isn’t a torn ligament or anything awful that requires immediate surgery. More likely we’re talking about something that flares up here and there and needs time and cortisone or what have you to get back to game shape. We don’t know, and that’s a sobering thought. But regardless, the Stars have just about the best backup option in the league—a netminder who is top-five in the NHL in 5v5 Sv%.

Khudobin’s shorthanded numbers are (like Kari’s last year, but to a lesser extent) worse than Bishop’s, that’s true. If they weren’t, the Stars would probably be in more of a goalie rivalry than a 1A, 1B setup. So, yeah, you never want to lose your top goaltender, but we can hope that the Stars can make it into the playoffs with the lead they’ve built now while Bishop continues to rest and heal.

Things are precarious right now, They’ve been that way all season. But this team, for all its flaws and missed opportunities, is sitting in a good spot. Their final five games are all eminently winnable, but likely they will not win them all. But thankfully, for the first time in a few years, they don’t need to.