A story could probably be written every day just on the topic of the current standings and the games being played that could impact the Dallas Stars’ chance of making the playoffs. For example, earlier today the Colorado Avalanche shutout the Buffalo Sabres and pulled within three points of Dallas. The Arizona Coyotes won to pull within four points of Dallas. The St. Louis Blues lost in overtime, so put another point between themselves and the Stars for third in the Central Division.
Basically any given night it seems like everyone is winning when they should and making the race that much tighter.
As head coach Jim Montgomery noted after the Stars’ shutout win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night, the team is aware of the standings – players, coaches, staff, fans. Everyone knows this time of year how big two points can be, and how missing out on an opportunity to collect points feels so much worse in March than in, say, October.
So yes, this loss against the Chicago Blackhawks probably stings – a lot. It was a missed opportunity to beat another team behind them in the standings, to extend their winning streak to five straight games, and to build on one of the most complete games of the season just 48 hours ago.
On the plus side, Dallas does have a game in hand on a lot of the teams around them right now. But games in hand are only valuable if points can be had, and tonight they spoiled one of those opportunities.
Based on the scoring chances that Owen Newkirk counted for the first period, Dallas probably felt they deserved to be in a better position than they were by the end of the first 20 minutes.
They first got burned when Taylor Fedun got caught in the offensive zone down near the halfwall. The Blackhawks were able to chip the puck past him and create a 2-on-1 the other direction. Roman Polak was the lone defender in that situation, and usually skaters in this play would take away one of the possible shooters and let the goaltender handle the other. Instead, Polak froze up and allowed a cross-ice pass to get through, and Chris Kunitz hit David Kampf’s tape for the easy score.
Dallas had a very good response to that goal, though. Just over a minute later they tied it up when Roope Hintz made a good play to fin Tyler Seguin step into some open ice for a shot on Corey Crawford from the slot. The ensuing rebound was corralled and put home by Alexander Radulov, who extends his goal scoring from last game’s hat trick.
The remainder of the period was fairly even between the two teams, until the Stars allowed another crucial odd-man advantage as the clock wound down with under a minute to go. Miro Heiskanen, who looked unusually tired skating-wise tonight, was a step behind Patrick Kane, who found Alex Debrincat getting the step on John Klingberg. Debrincat snapped a fast puck right past Khudobin for the Stars to end the period down 2-1.
The good news was that there was no other scoring that occurred in the second period, making it a one-goal game heading into the final 20 minutes. That’s also the bad news, too.
What was worse was that the Stars spent most of the period just trying to locate the offensive zone. Like “draw me a map and give me a flashlight” levels of inability to find it. It felt like they lost a lot of momentum due to that late-period goal in the first, and Chicago spent much of the second period dominating them as a result.
Luckily Khudobin kept it to a one-shot game.
Dallas did have to kill the only penalty called in the game when Heiskanen flipped the puck over the glass after two big stops by Khudobin. That is an area where Dallas has excelled this season, and much like they did in the Colorado game, the Stars were able to get a little momentum off the kill. They had a couple of grade A chances at the end of the period but Crawford was equally dialed-in tonight.
Long story short – there weren’t many chances by Dallas in the third period. The team just looked tired and couldn’t handle the transition game of the Blackhawks. Any chance they could have generated some offense within the last five minutes of the game basically died when Esa Lindell took a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass.
That put Dallas in another penalty kill situation and unable to pull Khudobin for the extra attacker. They were successful in killing it off, but they ran out of clock shortly after. Though, I would argue that there was a pretty egregious holding penalty that went uncalled on Seguin that could have changed the complexion of those last two minutes. Jamie Benn followed that up with a crosschecking (an earned penalty, by the way – that wasn’t some phantom call) that resulted in a Blackhawks player falling into Crawford. He’d go to the box for the last 17 seconds of the game and effectively end any chance of getting an equalizer and finding a way to take a point out of this one tonight.