Heading into tonight’s game, the Dallas Stars were on an 0-for-11 stretch on the power play. Losing two straight one-goal games, converting on some of those opportunities could have changed the complexion — and possibly the outcomes — of those games in the best-of-7 series.
In Game 3, the Stars had 1:29 of a 5-on-3 power play chance where they didn’t convert, unheard of with that much time. When asked how the team could improve their stagnant play, head coach Jim Montgomery said, “We need a little more spacing. If you can recognize that we’re trying to force it to the back door, we’re not moving the puck. They’re three, we’re five, let the puck do the work. Once they’re out of position, someone should be open for a shot.”
The team took that to heart and let the puck do more than work tonight. They made it a lethal weapon.
Dallas converted on the first three of their power play chances in the game. The first two of those came a little over a minute apart less than five minutes into the first period. It was the exact opposite of the kinds of starts the Stars have showcased throughout the first three games in this series. Usually, the Predators come out firing and the Stars try to weather the initial waves of attack and then play to impose their game upon the opposition.
While that worked in the first game for them, the last two haven’t had the same result. So turning that power play around, combined with getting their best start of the series, helped set the framework of a resounding win to even the series at two apiece.
Blake Comeau’s face started the Stars’ attack. He drew a hi-sticking penalty just 3:42 into the game. What had been a power play that was labeled predictable, stale, and terrible after the last two games came out with a fury tonight. The first unit of Mats Zuccarello, Roope Hintz, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg had a lot of crisp puck movement before potting one past Pekka Rinne.
It was the proverbial loosening of the dam after that.
Dallas went on to score another power play goal just over a minute later when Filip Forsberg flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game minor. (The Predators actually had two of those in the game, a sign of a very bad night indeed, as they tend to be characterized more as mental errors than other penalties.) That one was from another of the Stars’ top guys — one Alexander Radulov, who had an epic celebration just as we expect at this time of year.
Andrew Cogliano gave the Stars a three goal lead just over eight minutes into the game when he collected a very juicy rebound to the left of Rinne off his pads and showed no hesitation putting in the back behind the sprawled Nashville netminder.
Not to be outdone, Zuccarello tallied his own on the man advantage, marking the first time in Stars franchise history where they scored three power play goals in a period in the postseason. In fact, the four total goals in the period was the first such occurrence since 2008 for the Stars. That’s a lot of hockey in the last 11 years where the Stars didn’t quite have an offensive explosion like that.
Rinne was pulled after the fourth goal against, replaced by Juuse Saros on mop-up duty. After the game, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said that by that point he knew the game was going to be tough to dig out of.
The second period was mostly played fairly evenly as Dallas tried to avoid the dreaded turtling stance after amassing such a big lead. It was probably helped by the fact that Nashville decided that putting the Dallas power play on the ice was a Very Bad Idea and stayed out of the box in the period.
Though they could have easily sat back, Dallas continued to press the attache and were rewarded by a smooth move by John Klingberg to find Hintz down on the backdoor for the fifth goal of the evening. Saros had committed to Klingberg’s shot, and had Benn steaming down the slot area to contend with too. Hintz, completely uncovered by the Predators defenders, was able to accept the cross-crease pass and blast it home to give the Stars the commanding lead in the game.
How about that Klingberg tonight? The defensemen had three primary assists and was a key cog in the power play firing on all cylinders. While Heiskanen’s play has gotten a lot of attention league-wide thanks to his postseason career debut, Klingberg reminded everyone why he is one of the elite puck-moving blueliners tonight.
Sadly, the bid to get Bishop a postseason shutout ended on a long shot that he couldn’t see due to traffic. Roman Josi fired off the shot with some screens in front of the big Dallas netminder and it found some open twine between Bishop and the post as Bishop sealed off the bottom of the ice.
Surprisingly, Nashville loaded up the Dallas power play three more times in the period. While the puck movement was still fairly good on those chances, Nashville did a better job clogging up some lanes and helping their goaltender out on the kill.
In a game in which Dallas was desperate for a win to even the series, they were lead by their big players. When Dallas needed offense the most, they answered the bell and ensured that Stars fans will see postseason hockey at least one more time as Game 6 becomes necessary with this win.
Now they turn their attention to Game 5 which will be played at 2 PM CDT on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. While it seems unlikely that they will have the power play chances like they did in the first period in that game, hopefully there’s some things they can take out of their offensive attack and apply to get off to another good start. Because this time, it will be Nashville desperate to assert themselves back on this series, and that level of desperation is what makes this probably the closest series out there, as described by Montgomery himself.