The crowd at the American Airlines Center tonight was electric.
Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery, as well as forward Jason Spezza and top-pairing defenseman and alternate captain John Klingberg had nothing but glowing things to say in their post-game comments about the energy in the building. Spezza said he wished they gave Stars fans something more to cheer about. Klingberg said it was a good atmosphere. Montgomery said it’s the loudest building they’ve played in all year — which is saying something, considering how notorious Bridgestone Arena is in the playoffs.
The thing about energy in the building is that it gives the players a little boost when they need it. And the Stars needed it at times tonight. It’s a real shame they couldn’t send the soldout crowd of mostly Stars fans home with something better to cheer about tonight.
Dallas lost on the back of another straight game of ineffective man advantage play and an uncharacteristic night by their starting goaltender.
Dallas actually played a very clean game in terms of penalties taken, with Alexander Radulov’s roughing penalty early in the first period the only blemish on the Stars side of the ledge. The Predators did not, with four obstruction-style penalties called (hooking, interference, and tripping).
You could argue that was because of the speed that Dallas was playing with, and the possession time they had. But just when you would think that this would benefit Dallas, you realize that they are now 0-for-11 in power play chances in this series, and have scored on only one in 13 total chances. Their tally came in the first game of the series, not coincidentally when the Stars captured their only win of the series so far.
Would converting on one of those have made the difference in these last two one-goal games? Unequivocally yes.
The issues that I can see with the man advantage are that the power play seems to be predictable. Everyone in the building tonight knew that the Stars were looking for an odd-angle Alexander Radulov shot from the goal line or a Tyler Seguin snipe from the faceoff dot. For nearly 1.5 minutes of 5-on-3 power play time, everyone in the building knew where the puck was going. Dallas didn’t move the puck enough to draw the defenders out of position or make them work overly hard to kill the penalty where they could take advantage of some fatigue, either. Montgomery agreed with my assessment in his post-game comments, basically saying that if we could see from the pressbox that the team was trying to hit Radulov backdoor then the power play was way too obvious and predictable.
Which leads to the other issue with the power play of late. There is a lack of creativity on the man advantage. That has been a problem with the roster all season, to be honest. It’s compounded by a seeming inability to finish chances when they do get them, and the two issues combine for some very frustrating power play chances as evidenced in this series so far.
In the long run, not being able to capitalize on the power plays the Stars are drawing means that the Predators aren’t afraid to commit them. They know it’s not going to torch them on the scoresheet, and you’re not going to win a series unless you can make the other team pay when they do commit penalties. (Unless, of course, you’re the winner of the Stars-Predators series because both teams have their issues with converting when given an advantage, apparently, as the Predators might be the only ones able to make the Stars look even semi-passable in that game situation.)
The start followed the script written in the first two games of this series. Nashville came out firing on all cylinders and Dallas hoped to just weather the storm. Much like the last two games, they succeeded — though they were being outshot by a healthy margin, the Stars managed to settle into the game without allowing a goal in the initial onslaught.
Towards the back end of the period, Dallas was well and truly dominating. They spent the majority of shifts in the offensive zone, and strung multiple shifts like that together. It felt like it was just a matter of time before Dallas would score given their offensive push. But Pekka Rinne had his Vezina-quality play on display, and the two teams headed into the first period scoreless, and both probably felt they deserved a better fate than that.
All of the goal scoring in this one came in the second period. Noted Stars killer Rocco Grimaldi effectively killed any momentum Dallas had from the way they ended the first period, as he notched another against the Stars in this series just three and a half minutes into the period.
Nashville would take a two goal lead when Roman Polak got burned by a stretch pass and couldn’t keep up with the footspeed of Filip Forsberg. It seemed like the rout was on at that point, and the Stars’ inability to convert on several quality chances (not to mention the power plays, as mentioned earlier) were going to really come back to haunt them.
However, Mats Zuccarello, the forward that has been nothing but a sparkplug when available in the Stars’ lineup, changed the complexion of the game late in the middle frame. John Klingberg sent him a stretch pass from behind the Stars own blueline. Zuccarello skated it into the offensive zone and on an individual effort cut the lead by one.
It was a huge momentum swing for the Stars. Instead of heading into the final period with a two goal hole, they had to just overcome one.
Looking for a tying goal, head coach Jim Montgomery again reunited the big trio of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov. It paid off, too, when the Stars had extended zone time about eight minutes into the period. Radulov did some awesome work keeping the puck buried deep in the offensive zone. Once he was able to lodge it free, Benn found Seguin in front of the net who drilled it into the open space between Rinne and the post as Rinne was squared up for a shot from Benn’s angle.
All of a sudden, the building was back to electric. It felt as though the Stars were finally back where they should be and had the momentum to finally take their first lead of the game.
Unfortunately, this was not a night where that was meant to be. Bishop got punctured for a third goal against off a long shot that got deflected and went right past him just three minutes later.
It was deflating for everyone in the building. The players seemed to sense it too. Though they would make some heroic efforts at the end of the game to get the tying goal, the Predators defense shut the door on traffic in front of Rinne and kept the Stars from getting many quality looks.
As Montgomery said in his post-game press conference, sometimes you need to play for the goaltender that has been a rock for you all season long. “You know what, I don’t know if we’re playing if it’s not for our goalies and especially Ben [Bishop]. Our players got to pick him up for how many times he’s picked us up, right?” So yes, Bishop had a few goals tonight where he usually has them.
But the Stars have a much bigger problem right now. They need to find a way to score more goals and get him some run support — and quick. Maybe starting with the power play would be a good place to find some new ways to create offense.