When there are two fairly evenly matched teams going to head-to-head against one another, it seems almost inevitable that a winner won’t be determined until the last possible game.
Both teams have looked dominant at times and pedestrian at others. They’ve played with desperation and they’ve experienced highs and lows on the road and at home, both. While home ice would seem to be an advantage for the Blues in Game 7, Dallas players and coaches seem to be confident they can go in and take a win in a raucous atmosphere.
Head coach Jim Montgomery said in the post game that the Stars wanted so badly to perform well today that they started to get too “individualistic”. That is the antithesis of the team’s game, and when they play their way, they have had the most success. On the road, the expectation burden will be enhanced for the Blues in front of their home crowd, much like it was today for the Dallas club.
In some ways, that can be freeing for the road team. It allows them to simplify their game in a way that playing at home in the playoffs sometimes doesn’t. They’ll need to lean on their successes in the past on the road and find a new level of desperation — because the team that does will advance, and the one that doesn’t will have a long summer of contemplation of what could have been.
The start for Dallas to this game was downright awful. At one point, the Blues had an 8-0 shots on goal lead. They also had a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard just 1:03 into the game after Alex Pietrangelo scored.
Dallas also had to do some early penalty killing. Luckily, that’s been a strength. They’re currently at 33-of-35 penalties killed over the last 12 playoff games, good for a 94% kill rate. The only two goals they’ve allowed were to the Blues earlier in the series, but Dallas has been steady in that department.
In some ways, it helped them get back into the game and even up the period.
Tyler Seguin scored the Stars’ first (and, unknowingly at the time, only) goal of the game when Mats Zuccarello made a magnificent pass to the front of the net and Seguin deflected it into Jordan Binnington. The puck then squeezed through and Seguin ensured it went over the line to even the game up.
There were also penalty shenanigans in the first period. Jason Dickinson is the clubhouse leader in sticks to the face by a country mile this season, and he added to that lead with another today that went uncalled. Not only that, but after he tried to head back towards the play, the Blues player that sticked him in the face held onto his stick in a very aggressive manner to the point where it was clear to all 18,000+ people in the building that Dickinson wasn’t able to proceed as normal. The refs were staring straight at the sequence and called nothing.
What they did call were some super borderline calls of tripping and holding on both sides after that. It’s been a point of discussion throughout this series, to the point where Montgomery said after the last game that his team is doing enough to draw calls and they just aren’t getting called as penalties, a diversion from most pointed questions about non-calls as we usually see among NHL coaches.
The second period looked like one in which both teams played in a hard-fought Game 5 less than 48 hours ago.
An encapsulation of low-event hockey, both teams appeared to be sluggish and content to sit back a bit and see if they could capitalize on the other team’s mistakes instead of really pushing the tempo of play. The problem is when both teams do that, you have a low-shot, low-chance equation, and that’s exactly what occurred.
Which, of course, means that a weird play was going to break the 1-1 tie. The Blues were the beneficiaries of it, as they drove towards the net and a pass made it past John Klingberg’s stick and banked in past Bishop off David Perron’s stick instead.
The Stars would head into the final period down by a goal and facing a potential Game 7 in St. Louis if they couldn’t find a way to generate offense in the last 20 minutes.
The Blues were never going to go quietly into the night. Most predicted this series would go to a Game 7, and that’s exactly where it’s going to end.
Dallas had a few offensive pushes that they couldn’t convert early in the period. Especially a net-side cross-crease pass by Miro Heiskanen that jumped over the stick of Jamie Benn. That missed opportunity will likely burn a little after this loss, as it could have changed the complexion of the game altogether.
Instead, it was a different play that gets the credit for a massive momentum swing in this one.
Ben Bishop was hit in the shoulder/neck area (on replay, it looked like the space between the pads and the mask, where the goaltenders have no coverage). As he was writhing in pain, on the ice, the Blues took the puck and roofed it right over him into the wide open net.
Stars fans are not going to like hearing that it was a play that is discretionary in terms of whether the ref whistles the play dead. As the rule reads, if there’s an injury and the refs don’t deem it of the serious nature, the injured player’s team has to gain possession of the puck before they get the whistle. The refs, in this case, did not deem Bishop’s injury to be serious:
According to referee series supervisors Kay Whitmore the referees didn't rule the injury to Bishop serious.— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) May 5, 2019
Here's a further explanation: pic.twitter.com/X95gaQMzaR
What’s interesting is that Kerry Fraser, famed retired referee who actively offers his opinions of plays like this on social media, said it wasn’t a bang-bang play, and that he thought the play should have been blown dead.
Honestly, this wasn’t a Bang-Bang play on shot & rebound into the net when Bishop hit on collarbone. Ref’s discretion, based on seriousness of potential injury could have killed the play when puck was loose up high until STL regained possession. With Bishop still down; whistle?— Kerry Fraser (@kfraserthecall) May 5, 2019
Last point from an officiating mind; future potential injury! With Bishop down & back of legs; neck; head & unable to defend himself let alone his net, a slapshot strikes him in vulnerable spot resulting in debilitating injury or worse, what would we be talking about? No whistle!— Kerry Fraser (@kfraserthecall) May 5, 2019
What likely enforces the case of it not being a “serious” injury is the fact that Bishop was looked at by trainers and he stayed in the game. On the ensuing play, he allowed the fourth goal of the game and was taken out. During his post-game media availability, head coach Jim Montgomery indicated that Bishop was fine and he was taken out of the game not because of injury concerns but rather because they wanted to put Antoin Khudobin in at that time.
It was a turning point in the game. A one-goal game became a three-goal game in the span of 30 seconds or less.
Benn said that had the Stars had a whistle they would have blown the play dead, but that the Blues would not have if they had a whistle. That pretty much seems to sum up how you view that sequence of events among fans, too.
Regardless, Dallas didn’t play in a way that appeared they could get back into this one. Instead of closing out on home ice, they’ll have to go St. Louis and need to find another road win if they want to extend their season into the next round.
Dallas has won two of the three road games — the last two played there, in fact — in St. Louis so far this series. Can they find another — and cast off the shadow of the epic meltdown in Game 7 three years ago at the same time?
Puck drops Tuesday at 7 PM CDT.