clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Afterwords: Let’s Try That Again

New, comments

It’s nice when the third period is more or less a victory lap, eh?

St Louis Blues v Dallas Stars - Game Four Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The stars are filled with holograms

They’re fueled with love and carved with elegance

***

Every game in this series has felt a bit like a gift waiting to be unwrapped. In one sense, they are, as it’s probably safe to say most of us weren’t expecting the Stars to win six (and counting) postseason games at a few different points in the season. But the surprise nature of gifts is also inherent in each one, and this one was no different. While Dallas once again had a decent start to the game without an immediate goal to show for their efforts, it was the Blues who took the lead. But this time, Dallas struck back fairly quickly, reminding the Blues that they weren’t going to be rolling over any time soon. This is not going to be a short series, and that became clear all within the first period.

The new forward lines in the top six were especially revealing, with the Hintz/Seguin swap signaling that Jim Montgomery was not going to pin his hopes for winning this series on a top-line resurgence. The wealth was spread around, and the harvest was rich indeed. All three even-strength goals were scored by those two lines, with Seguin and Zuccarello assisting on both Dickinson’s and Klingberg’s goals. Roope Hintz, meanwhile, benefited from assists by Benn and Radulov. Best laid plans sometimes do work as a result of being laid best. Nice, that.

But really, it didn’t feel like that at first. Even with all of the momentum Dallas had built, the Vladimir Tarasenko power play goal was yet another cruel dagger, with Ben Bishop looking less than stellar as he got beat short side. Especially coming when it did, after a really fast pace to start, it seemed like Dallas had squandered the momentum, but they took it back, as you can see:

St. Louis didn’t really mount another serious push until after the Klingberg tally to make it 3-1, and thankfully Roope Hintz’s goal took care of that at the end of the second period. It’s nice to go into the locker room with something to talk about.

At one point, Pierre (I think) talked about how Craig Berube really wanted to have Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester on the ice against the Stars’ top players. The result of those efforts? Eating a minus-two on the night. The first instance was the most noticeable, as Jason Dickinson made up for his (rather specious call of a) penalty with a nice rebound goal after Tyler Seguin beat Parayko to the puck by the side of the net.

Bouwmeester, for his troubles, ended up playing the bumper role on the Stars’ power play for Jason Spezza, who continued to silence all of you yokels who were telling him to retire earlier this year. You know who you are. I leave you to the sting of your conscience.

After a power play where the first unit never even got into the zone—seriously, this has got to be worrisome for Todd Nelson at this point—the second unit finally got rewarded. Spezza’s booming slapshot came after Alex Radulov dug the puck out from Jordan Binngton’s grasp, and it proved that you don’t have to be excellent on the power play for two straight minutes if you can work hard and be a bit fortunate for a few seconds.

Among other things, it was noticeable how much Dallas was jumping St. Louis’s defensive-zone exits earlier on in this game. Mats Zuccarello and even some of the defensemen continued to stick to the game plan that we saw the other night, and the Stars reaped the rewards of this targeted risk. The Stars know the Blues are trying to stretch the neutral zone to give themselves more room for outlets at the blue line, but a key step up was successful a couple of times in either turning the puck over outright, or forcing St. Louis to dump the puck and cede control. Both are crucial over the course of a game, and Dallas got immediate rewards as well. It pays to play smart and fearlessly.

***

In the less interesting portion of events, St. Louis’s low cycle can be dangerous when players don’t exchange well, but Tyler Bozak’s pick was a bit too obvious of interference for even these officials to let go, and he was unwillingly quartered. It’s such a subtle play, but as you saw by the shot St. Louis generated that was blown dead, it can create immediate space, which is why it’s illicit. Anyway, at least the officials picked up on that, even if they decided not to call the slash on Ben Bishop (or what they might have perceived as subsequent embellishment by the goalie, which would be a bold move considering that getting two-hand whacked in the unprotected back with a hockey stick by a strong athlete probably does not make one giggle.

And, as Taylor wrote in the recap, that no-call begat all the donkey business. Not calling obvious penalties on goalies seems like a strange way to control a game, but what do I know?

So, as a result, the AHL version of Jordan Binnington showed up at the end of the second, when Jamie Benn gave him the old how-do-ya-do with his stick, and Binnington then lost control, retaliating against Benn, which wouldn’t have drawn anything extra, then giving Ben Bishop a slash on his way off the ice, which drew something indeed. You can talk about the Stars getting him off his game, but it seems pretty clear to be that the goaltender was off his game because he was losing, not vice versa. Anyway, good on the Stars for recognizing that they were benefiting from the nonsense and moving on. Maybe that’s a result of having some veterans on the team who are willing to calm things down, or maybe that’s just common sense. As a counterpoint to that last sentence, let me remind you that we are talking about hockey players, and common sense is very contextual, as you may have noticed this year.

Tyler Pitlick drew in for Janmark and also took a penalty, and I’m not sure he acquitted himself well enough to supplant a healthy player after this game. That said, Mattias Janmark might not be healthy enough to come back soon if Sean’s report of a walking boot indicates anything more than precautionary measures. I suppose we shall see.

Joel Hanley also came into the lineup for Taylor Fedun, which I found mildly surprising, though not totally shocking. Hanley is a lefty, which means the Stars don’t have the two righties on the third pairing they had with Fedun and Lovejoy, and that in turn means Hanley will be more frequently playing pucks up the board on his strong side, giving the Stars more chances to disrupt the cycle.

The surprising part is that Hanley is actually a bit smaller than Fedun, which subverts some narratives you might have seen out there about Patrick Maroon rag-dolling the Stars’ defense around the ice. Reports have been misstated, I think it is safe to say, as Dallas made Maroon an afterthought, generating quality chances aplenty throughout the game, and largely keeping their structure intact.

Montgomery seemed to trust him a shade more than Fedun too, giving Hanley 13+ minutes over the course of the night, albeit none on special teams. It was more or less the same Joel Hanley we saw this season: someone whose intelligence and skill align enough to make his defensive play lack liability, which is all the coaches ask from their sixth defenseman these days. I guess when you have the top three defensemen Dallas does, you don’t really need to ask the world of your depth guys, and Hanley took that role and ran with it quite well. Boring is good when you’re a third-pair guy playing his first playoff game with a decent lead for most of the night. I’d expect to see Hanley back in unless Oleksiak is close to 100%. The smaller guys tend to lose trust quickly in this league, I’ve noticed.

We should, once more, reiterate how huge that Spezza power play goal was, both to redeem a frustrated power play to that point and to take a lead into the first intermission after giving up the first goal at home. When you get value for money, it can energize a team regardless of how the goal was gotten. And seeing a guy like Spezza get it after how the season shook out for him? That’s gotta be a little bit of a spirits-lifter, I’d think.

Hintz’s goal ending the second period also meant the world to the Stars, as it seemed to move the game beyond the hopeful stage for the Blues. You may have noticed a certain goaltender whose actions similarly channeled this state of mind.

***

If you haven’t loved NBC’s coverage of the playoffs, you have to at least be grateful that moments like that Miro Heiskanen breakaway in the second were being televised nationally. That chance comes off brilliant awareness that he’s covered up by a forward just fine, that the puck is going to Faksa, and that he can beat the Blues’ defense if the pass is good enough, which it was. No, Heiskanen didn’t score on that chance, but you have to give him full marks just for recognizing that the opportunity was there, and then making something of it, if not the most. A defenseman getting a breakaway is a rare bird, and it’s really fun to see Heiskanen just taking things like that in stride. As Mats Zuccarello told Montgomery in this one, the team was having fun. It’s okay for us to enjoy it.

It’s hard to remember by this point, but Jordan Binnington was great for large portions of this game, keeping things close for as long as he could. Binnington had a particularly massive stop to keep it 2-1 after a really slick tic-tac-toe play by Comeau, Faksa and Cogliano that for all the world looked like a goal before the shot happened. But another great play by Mats Zuccarello turned the puck over in the neutral zone, and John Klingberg made it 3-1 on the ensuing rush into the zone after Seguin made space and dished the puck to him.

As for that third goal, what a shot by Klingberg to go top corner, eh? You can almost see him cycle through his options as he receives the pass, then decide to forgo a potential pass to Zuccarello and take the shot himself. Given where he put it, I think he made the right choice. Gotta put it on net, right?

The other side of the Stars’ aggression up and down the ice with their defensemen showed up in the Faksa penalty. After a rush by Dallas didn’t pan out at the other end and Miro Heiskanen was caught, the Blues could have gotten back into the game, but Dallas killed it off efficiently.

The last truly dicey part of this one was probably when David Perron hit a post after intercepting a Klingberg pass with the forwards leaving or changing. It was a Bounce, and you take those, yes you do. And, as hockey wisdom dictates, a minute or two later, Benn found Hintz busting to the net on a rush to make it 4-1. It’s a lot more fun to be on this side of those events, I would say.

***

Tyler Seguin was huge in this one. Say what you will about Jim Montgomery, but it seems pretty clear to me that he has the team all-in, and that they are playing his game with as much heart as they can scrap together each shift. Jamie Benn is the captain of the team, but Tyler Seguin sets a tone, too. When you have a player moving his feet and battling for pucks the way Seguin was in this one, that sends the message to every corner of the lineup.

After all the Binnington Nonsense, the Stars were content to make it through the two minutes starting the third period on the power play just holding their three-goal lead, with the third line and even Ben Lovejoy getting a chunk of power play time as the lines began to roll over.

On balance, St. Louis’s game looked a lot less conducive to making up ground than Dallas’s has, and that reminds you of just how crucial leads are against this team. St. Louis is not at home when they’re trailing, and Dallas can outskate them when they’re forced to open things up.

There were still some moments of misfortune, though. Robert Thomas decided to damped the party a tad with a bar-down goal after an extended shift in the Stars’ zone, but maybe that’s just the universe tossing him a cookie for being a pretty dangerous player all night. I choose to believe the things I tell myself sometimes.

Ryan O’Reilly almost banked a shot in off Bishop to make things a little too interesting down the home stretch, but an awkward stop kept the puck just out, and boy, that was nice to see. You don’t want to give anyone any reason to get hopeful over there, and Dallas did not do that at all. The team locked things down, holding the Blues shotless for the last three minutes of the game, even with the extra attacker on the ice. That’s a special sort of demoralization.

So, it’s going at least six games. This series is officially going to be a close one, which we probably should have expected. These are two teams whose relative strengths and weaknesses seem to create a rather small margin for error. In this one, Dallas capitalized on enough of their chances to keep the game in hand after an initial hiccup. In game five, you can bet the Blues will be making some adjustments, trying some new zone exits, and generally just trying to be as annoying as they can be. The gall of some of these teams, trying to win. It’s just downright rude of them, sometimes.

Every moment matters in these sorts of games. When your goalie is cleaning enough things up, you can keep skating, keep opening things up, and trusting your team’s skill and skating to keep you in the lead. Right now, Dallas has gotten their confidence back, and the Blues have a shaky goaltender who will be looking to prove something back at home. This series has seen Dallas rebound from losses twice now, and that’s worth something. But they’ll have to string a couple together at some point, and I would recommend doing so, starting in one of the next two games.

It’s gonna be a tough fight. This wasn’t the pseudo-knockout blow Dallas dealt Nashville in the fourth game of the last series. This was more of a proof of concept, Dallas demonstrating that they can, at least, execute their game plan and gather the bounty from it. This game, in a sense, was an overdue feast. And we’ll never complain about feasts, especially when they mean we’ll get to come back home in a few days. Winning games here is pretty fun.