Nearly half of the remainder of the Dallas Stars schedule will feature a team that is fighting for a Wild Card spot. Tonight, one of those teams was in the building in the Arizona Coyotes. Their position currently is among those teams slogging it out for a Wild Card spot — or, in the case of the Pacific Division teams, a chance to slip into one of the top three spots.
That can lead to a lot of desperation hockey the Stars will face. Although they have a decent gap between themselves and those teams in the Wild Card race right now, it’s very easy to watch that disappear if the play goes the long way for a stretch. After all, the St. Louis Blues had an 11-point lead on the Stars and the Colorado Avalanche just a month ago. Now, the Stars and Blues will face off on Friday night for the chance to take over sole possession of the top in the Central and the West (assuming Colorado doesn’t charge past them between now and then.)
“We never want our guys to be satisfied,” interim head coach Rick Bowness said after the game. “We haven’t done anything yet. We haven’t done anything.”
The message in the room is that the Stars haven’t secured a playoff position either, just like everyone they’ll face in the coming weeks. Until they do, every game is just as important for the Stars to walk away with points as the opponent. Even those teams that are out of the playoffs can prove to be a tough game. “We talked about it, and then you know you are going to play some teams that are out of it and just kind of free-wheeling it,” Ben Bishop said after the game. “And that’s almost just as hard to play. So it’s more important, you know, to play the way we want to play night in and night out and kind of challenge ourselves.”
The Stars came out flying versus the Coyotes, and Jason Dickinson’s face did the rest of the work in drawing the first power play of the game less than one minute into the game. (Jakob Chychrun’s stick was attracted to him, because he does, after all, “just have a face”.) Roope Hintz would find a wide open Corey Perry by the net and Dallas would take a 1-0 lead.
After the goal, they continued to push the pace, at one point running up a shots on goal advantage of 11-3. Then, they appeared to go up 2-0 thanks to a Jamie Benn shot from the slot on a deft move by Denis Gurianov. However, the Coyotes immediately challenged the goal, and it was revealed on replay that Gurianov was offside by a good two feet on the zone entry. The goal was disallowed thanks to it.
Arizona seemed to get some momentum from the overturned goal, and they started storming back. By the end of the period, Arizona would have actually outshot the Stars 21-13. However, Ben Bishop made some big saves on some of the higher quality shots he faced (particularly on a point-blank sequence when Gurianov had overturned the puck in the defensive zone in the high danger slot area.)
The first half of the second period was fairly evenly played between the two teams. Things started to get chippier, though, as the game moved along. Alex Goligoski slashed Perry, and Perry retaliated with a crosscheck right in front of the referee. They’re always going to call the retaliation penalties, especially ones so blatant, and the teams would play at 4-on-4.
Shortly before that expired, Benn made an incredibly poor decision to board Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the defensive zone:
Benn's hit on Ekman-Larsson that led to ejection pic.twitter.com/2Agw1uLiY0— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) February 20, 2020
He got a major penalty as well as a game misconduct on the play. It wouldn’t be surprising in the least if he gets a hearing with the Department of Player Safety. Many across the league tonight expressed that the play is definitely suspendable.
Benn hit is absolutely a suspension. Can't claim surprise about the way the two of them came together, and seemed to put a little extra violence into a moment you'd like to see a guy trying to dial it back on vulnerable opponent. OEL can protect himself better, but not the point.— Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) February 20, 2020
The only thing that might keep it from being a longer suspension would be the fact that Ekman-Larsson played in the third period, a factor the DoPS has utilized in suspensions before (whether they should or shouldn’t is a whole other discussion).
Taylor Hall would eventually score about midway through the major penalty on a shot that went right through Bishop. But that was the only time Arizona was able to take advantage on the major.
With under a minute before the major penalty expired, Mattias Janmark would draw a hooking penalty and Dallas would go back to work on special teams, albeit on the other side of the equation, as the major expired. The power play that has been blistering hot for Dallas of late made it 2-for-2 thanks to a Radek Faksa effort.
Although Dallas had seemed to weather the storm and manage to come out on top, Arizona would score the first even strength goal by either team with under two minutes to go in the period thanks to Christian Fischer.
The third period started off more tentatively than either of the two which proceeded it. Both teams looked like they were attempting to control the game, and it led to more conservative play on both sides of the ice.
It took more than half the period before either team would break the tie. Jamie Oleksiak found himself in the offensive zone with some time, and he used some patience to let the play develop in front of Adin Hill with his teammates creating some screens and traffic in front. He called his own number and sent a shot towards the net that hit top shelf.
Most definitely not the guy you usually have in the game winning goal pool. After the game, Oleksiak kind of laughed and explained that he can remain stoic in those moments because he’s conditioned himself not to expect many goals that come off his stick.
With the extra attacker, Arizona had a number of opportunities to tie the game. However, they flubbed the puck in tight or passes were sent off just wide of where they should have hit tape to make a play. Though Dallas had a number of shots at the empty net goal, Arizona was able to keep them from winning by more than one goal on the scoreboard.
That’s where this team lives this season — the one goal affair.