A lot of debate has raged among Dallas Stars fans since news came out Tuesday afternoon that forward Alexander Radulov would be a healthy scratch for the team’s game that night against the New York Rangers. Radulov was late to a team meeting that morning and the consequence was his being out of the lineup.
After the game Tuesday night, head coach Jim Montgomery said he doesn’t have a lot of rules for the players to follow. But being on time to team required events is one of the few. It was the first time this season that Montgomery had to bench a player for being late this season, but hardly the first in recent years. John Klingberg, Tyler Seguin, and Cody Eakin come to mind under general manager Jim Nill’s tenure here in Dallas.
The thing is, each of those players addressed the media about it almost immediately. As Sean Shapiro of The Athletic has described on Twitter, Radulov has been declining to speak with the media since the news came out of his scratch.
He let his play tonight send the message loud and clear instead.
The first period felt a lot like two teams that knew there were massive points on the line. Neither wanted to be the first to make a mistake, and it led to the sense that the teams were trying to feel one another out for the first 20 minutes.
Each had their moments, and there was a lot of play in the zones that didn’t result in shots as they looked for shooting lanes and seams to open up.
Then, the Radulov show started. It came after the Stars killed off the obligatory Blake Comeau penalty with a fairly aggressive penalty kill. After a good shift with a lot of time spent in the offensive zone by Radulov’s line, Jamie Benn got the puck in the corner and spotted a streaking Radulov headed for the front of the net. He was uncovered and popped the puck straight past Semyon Varlamov. It would end up being the only goal in the period as Ben Bishop put on a show at times at the other end. He had some big saves, especially early when the two teams were testing each other.
Dallas had a power play chance in the first period, though it wasn’t much to write home about. In fact, the Avalanche were near-elite on the aggressive side of the penalty killing scale. They spent almost as much time in the offensive zone as Dallas did on the man advantage, and if not for Bishop making some big saves on the penalty kill, the score could have been very different.
The second frame was a lot of the same, though the play seemed to really open up at times. There was a lot more puck movement north-south, and a few odd-man rushes as a result of the higher-paced play. Varlamov and Bishop were the real stars of the show for most of the first half of the period.
The real difference, though, was the physical play of the Stars in the second frame. Esa Lindell laid a solid hit and Benn followed up almost immediately after with another hit to establish a tone early in the second period.
Raduov tacked on his second of the night on a beautiful feed from Tyler Seguin, who picked a pass off in the neutral zone to start the zone entry. He dished it over to Radulov, who saw a lane and picked the outside post. It went pipe-and-in on a beautiful shot that probably doesn’t go in 99% of the time.
Roman Polak committed a tripping penalty, giving Colorado another chance to score on the man advantage. Though the second penalty kill might not have been as aggressive as the first, the Stars were able to really limit what Colorado did with the puck – and kept them from registering a shot altogether on that iteration of the man advantage.
Look, winning is super fun. Going into the third period with a two goal lead when the Stars had blown leads like that to this very Avalanche team this season makes it a little more anxiety-inducing even if they ultimately got there.
Benn tacked on the insurance goal about five minutes into the period, and there was a bit more life in the building after that. It was almost like we had seen this story before and it usually didn’t end with a win in the past. So yes, there was some holding of breaths until Benn streaked toward the goal and scored a goal on a shot from the slot off a slick pass from Jason Dickinson.
Even better was the Radulov empty net goal at the end of the period to seal the 4-0 win. That was Radulov’s first NHL career hat trick tonight, and he scored it as a Dallas Star.
But to be honest, as great as all of that was, the best part was the offensive threats Dallas had after that empty net goal. Instead of sitting back and trying to take the lead home, the Stars continued to pepper Varlamov with shots looking for goal number five. After all, if the Stars are in the offensive zone that means the Avalanche are not near Bishop’s net and therefore could not play spoiler to the back-to-back shutout streak.
Dallas seems to be heating up at just the right time. They’re on a four game win streak. Radulov scored a hat trick not long after John Klingberg scored goals in two straight games and Benn scored a hat trick of his own. Bishop rolls on with more than 120 minutes of shutout time. Dallas just beat a team trailing right behind them. And, for the next hour or so, they sit one point away from catching the St Louis Blues for third in the division. (They’re playing the Los Angeles Kings and winning as of this posting, so….that’s probably not going to be the case when we wake up in the morning, to be honest.)