clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Afterwords: So It’s Gonna Be Like This

New, comments

“Everything happens for a reason” isn’t always a mere platitude

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

I’m living in the day and night, and night and day

It can go so wrong in a million different ways

I have no home, just a place to stay

***

If you thought the ghosts of the past could be wished away and forgotten, Sunday afternoon set you straight.

This Stars team is not that Stars team. They are not last year’s team, either. They are something all their own, something we are still seeing new sides and shades of as Jim Montgomery’s rookie year progresses further into May than most of us might have predicted.

But just because this team isn’t either of the ones that brought those heartbreaks doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of their own sort. After all, you must remember game three of this very series, when the Stars thrice tied the game, only to surrender a heartbreaking goal to Patrick Maroon in the dying embers of a wild third period. This team can give us wonderful gifts, but they can also let us down.

So it is that we approach game seven, another game seven, with the utmost of trepidation. They have not been kind to Dallas, if you recall. A crushing defeat in Vancouver 12 years ago that felt not dissimilar to this series’s game six, when the officials seemed to tilt the game by omission while the Stars couldn’t find another gear to battle through it.

I cannot promise you that Tuesday won’t bring agony. I suspect you know this, and I suspect that you suspect that this agony is about 90% likely to happen. It’s what we’re all used to by now. The surprises are good, but they eventually end in disappointment. Fabian Brunnström is a real person, but his story lives on so vividly in Stars fans’ memories today because it is so familiar. Suddenly, something wonderful during a rough time! And then, well, never mind.

This is why the Stars won games four and five, though. To get to game seven in the first place, if possible. Contingency plans are a necessity, if not a looked-for one.

We save our money for what we dream about, and then we end up spending a lot of it just to preserve what we need. The Stars, too, earned themselves two cracks at the Western Conference Final. They have another chance. And even if you know that the second kid in Legends of the Hidden Temple usually wasn’t going to have much more success than the first one, you couldn’t deny that this kid was not the first kid. And if they were going to get captured by a temple guard, it at least was not going to be the same temple guard. (Possibly this reference has become more esoteric on the eve of the 2020s than I would like to admit.)

So, I guess the biggest thing I am taking away from this game is that, thanks to the Stars’ great efforts in two road games and one home game, we will get to watch them again. We are at 13 bonus games and counting. and if they win this next one, Dallas is guaranteed to play at least a 99th game in 2018-19. That is pretty rip-roarin’ great.

***

It isn’t good for anyone to score into an empty net with the goalie injured. Not for the league, not for the players, and definitely not for the fans. Even if a player’s competitive juices are going to dictate subsequent shots on goal in the moment when you have an open net, those aren’t moments you really want to hang your hat on, you know?

But with that said, it’s also completely understandable why the officials didn’t blow the play dead when Ben Bishop got stung with that Colton Parayko shot to the collarbone/neck/shoulder/wherever you want to say it hit him in order to reinforce your point/undermine that of the idiot you are arguing with online.

In fact, if I were an official in that situation, I probably wouldn’t have blown the play dead, either. Why would you, after all? There are certain imperatives that cover an official if they decide to blow a play dead, and those imperatives are nebulously categorized as “serious injury” and such. If getting two-hand chopped in the back with a stick for no good reason doesn’t qualify as a penalty under Playoff Officiating, why would getting hit with a puck in “the shoulder” (as the referees told Kay Whitmore who told a pool reporter, per Sean Shapiro) warrant a whistle?

Here is that uncalled slash again, by the way. Taste those sour grapes, man. Those are our grapes, and they are good. You can make some great whine from those sour grapes, and I am here to drink myself a goblet, as a fan. A toast, to the pucker vine!

And hey, while we’re unabashedly whining about the Stars’ misfortunes (though the Blues have certainly had some calls go against them in the series, too), let’s not forget the play right before the non-whistle on Bishop: the non-whistle after Seguin got high-sticked in the mouth off the preceding faceoff.

None of this matters, and it can’t. Players and coaches have to put it behind them and prepare their confidence for game seven, but fans aren’t so lucky. We can’t watch games in a vacuum, and if the worst happens in Game 7, that disappointment will be comingled with the hurt of Game 6. We may cry “not today!” before the battle rages, but in our hearts, we are all whimpering, “not again” until our team comes out on the right side of the handshake line.

Anyway, all this is a salient reminder even aside from the moaning and complaining: the officials have certain standards of what they believe players are and are not expected to play through, and they deemed Ben Bishop to be, if injured, not in any sort of imminent danger of further or graver injury by the continuation of play.

The rule does sort of makes sense, right? Surely you’ve read all the Rule 8.1 quotes by now, so I’ll not bother with them. The gist of it is that officials are to blow the whistle if the injured player’s team has the puck, and to use their discretion if not. You’ll commonly see plays blown dead when goaltenders’ helmets come off, or when they shake said helmets off their heads to ensure a whistle. It’s obviously very dangerous for a goalie to do that, but the rules are clearly set under the assumption that players will cheat as much as possible if there is any incentive to do so. That’s the bottom line.

For officials, then, their job is to not become the story of the game if they don’t have to. Whether you think the officials have succeeded at that job is, ah, up for debate (or perhaps not even, anymore), but they certainly prefer not to blow their whistles if they do not have to. There is a cultural narrative in the NHL around the playoffs that has, for better or for worse, permeated the games, and you have seen it so far: inconsistent standards from game to game, and even within the same game (as we saw with the tripping and high-sticking calls and non-calls Friday and Sunday).

It’s unfortunate, but the reality is that the NHL, barring a massive culture shift that doesn’t seem that close as long as Colin Campbell is still a significant figure, won’t be enacting any rapid-fire protection rules any time soon. The league pretends to abhor diving without empowering its officials to call it, and thus you see the majority of embellishment calls coming alongside an offsetting penalty call. And so it is that Ben Bishop can pretty clearly be hurting quite a bit, helpless, but the officials will also gladly take the out of keeping their hands ostensibly clean, because they can. Why step in and get in the middle of things if you can say your boss told you not to?

You can see the referee on the goal line put his whistle to his lips, prepared to blow the play dead right before the puck goes in. He instead points to the goal after the puck goes in.

It’s really up to whoever’s in charge in situations like these. As much as I agree with Kerry Fraser re: how the rule should be called in such situations (with supplemental fines ex post facto for goaltenders who simulate injuries or throw their mask off when it’s not broken), I honestly doubt he would have done any different in that situation, because the path of least resistance for the officials there is the same as it is for calling penalties in the postseason: don’t do anything unless you have to, by which time things have probably gotten out of control in a broader sense. I don’t blame the officials in this one for making a wrong decision, but I do have genuine regret for a game where a team can score a goal with a goaltender genuinely writhing on the ice in pain. Seems like we should be able to do better than that. It is the playoffs, after all.

***

But this game wasn’t tied when that Schwartz goal happened. It was already 2-1 thanks to a couple of plays that put Dallas in a hole heading into the third period. And, as teams sometimes do, Dallas decided to try digging their way out of the hole. It went predictably.

Throughout much of the season, Dallas has been a rough first-period team. They have been outshot, outscored, and altogether outplayed in the first period most of the season, and that held true in this one. The Blues went ahead a minute into the game after a really bad turnover from Mattias Janmark (who, to be fair, probably could have used a heads up that he had a backchecker closing in) at his own blue line. That turnover led to an extended offensive zone shift, which has more or less become the Blues’ calling card except for the result: after Joel Edmundson (yes, that one) fed the puck back to the point from behind the net, Roope Hintz stayed with Jaden Schwartz. It wasn’t the wrong play, but the Stars had been exchanging coverages for most of the shift, and the result was that Alex Pietrangelo had ample time and space to step up to the guts of the point and rip a shot through Miro Heiskanen’s legs (which was pretty impressive) and through a screen, into the net.

It was kind of a dumb goal, one that still needed a lot to go right even after the mistake by Janmark, but the Stars were down 1-0, and any hopes of a cake walk to the Western Conference Final quickly disappeared. In fact, Janmark took a penalty shortly after the goal to put the Blues on the power play, and things could have gotten bad for Dallas a lot more quickly than they eventually did, if not for a Dallas penalty kill that looks to have manufactured a shaved key to get into the St. Louis power play’s control room. Janmark would also miss a chance at a goal on a beautiful cross, so it’s safe to say he probably will be glad to see a new day and a new game, when they both come.

But back to the first period, Miro Heiskanen stepped up and drew a penalty call, and Dallas would get a power play. Dallas would, in fact, score on that power play, as Mats Zuccarello found Seguin with a gorgeous pass after Klingberg and Benn connected with some risky passing of their own to keep the offensive zone. Not that Benn’s risky passing in any way factored into this game or anything, oh no. What is he going to do, give another puck away at the offensive blue line for a breakaway? Hahaha, that would be ridiculohno oh no oh no, yeah, that’s not great.

But, yeah. That fourth Blues’ goal didn’t mean much, as 3-1 with a wincing goalie already felt a bit of a mortal blow on Sunday. Still, it was curious to see Benn having such a rough third period after he really did look locked in earlier in the match, at least to my eyes. Maybe that’s just what adversity can do: rattle you despite your best efforts, get you to force plays you shouldn’t, and just put you on tilt.

That’s what the Stars looked like for too much of this game—tilted, I mean. Some of that might have been from Jim Montgomery putting the Big Line back together, but some of it might also have been from the Stars just getting outplayed by the Blues. Every line more or less got drubbed in possession in this one, with the Hintz/Zuccarello/Dickinson trio the only group that even pretended to tread water. I can see why Montgomery would have wanted to try to overwhelm the Blues with home-ice matchups, and that top line did have some good shifts, but man, you’re gonna need to find a four-line solution in game seven, or else risk a tight game with the potential to be undone by one of the many bounces St. Louis’s volume-centric approach will create. Quality is great, so long as quality is consistent. Dallas will need more from many, and some from all. That’s what game sevens need.

Look at Game 7 this way: St. Louis went up 2-1 on a dumb little dump-in play where the puck ticked off Lindell’s glove (I think) and into the boards at the right spot for Sunqvist to retrieve it and get past Lindell for a 2-on-1, after which David Perron gets his stick free from John Klingberg. So much had to break just that way for the Blues, but it did.

When you think back to games in which Dallas has had tons of breakaways and odd-man chances they haven’t converted, you just shake your head at how many goals they could have had. In this game, you don’t really do that. Dallas didn’t deserve a lot of goals, even if they might not have deserved all the goals against, either. This series sits on the edge of a knife, and when you sit too long, the ground stops feeling comfortable, knife-ground in particular.

I don’t know what Dallas will bring on Tuesday. Probably there will be stretches where they look like the malaise-infested squad that showed up for the first 10 minutes of the game, and probably there will be stretches like the second part of the first, when they seem to be in command. But you have to weather the storms even as you pray for rain of your own, and the Stars lost their footing against St. Louis with their home crowd on hand. It’s a rotten way to reward them, but the good news is that Dallas can buy them more games with a successful one-game road trip. You’re only as disappointing as your last win.

So here’s to Dallas evoking memories old and creating fear anew, even as we tentatively hope for what precious thing might be waiting around the corner. It would have been nice if Dallas could have taken the easy route. And when ifs and buts are candy and nuts, we’ll all have a very merry hockey season. Or at least a high-calorie one. That, at least, is entirely within your control.