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Game 53 Afterwords: Brooklyn Bummed

For as badly as that game could’ve gone, you probably take that point and run

Dallas Stars v New York Islanders Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

Full disclosure: I loathe this movie. It’s just a lot of messy spectacle, a monochromatic, low-rent Hello, Dolly! But then again, this game was kind of a mishmash of iffiness. Turnabout, I suppose, is the fairest of play. Well done, New York. You are a hell of a town.

***

After a pretty feel-good game in Madison Square Garden, the final game of the New York trip was always going to have a bit of a superfluous connotation. Here was a team playing its third in four nights on the road going up against the reigning Jennings Trophy winners. Barry Trotz is a good coach, and these Stars simply aren’t built to punch holes in battleships.

Except, they sort of did. They went up 2-1, then 3-2. Ben Bishop had triaged an otherwise disastrous first period, and then some timely scoring picked him up enough to get to overtime, where Jamie Benn had a fantastic chance from Seguin to end it in overtime! And, well, sometimes things just don’t go your way.

The Stars are still on a 101-point pace right now, sitting at 30-18-5. They have a measly +6 goal differential but still sit one point ahead of Colorado (albeit with two more games played), who currently sport a +38 mark. So, you know. Things could have broken a lot worse for the Dallas Stars than they have so far, and that’s something you just can’t turn up your nose at, given how many near-misses the last decade saw this team achieve down the stretch.

After losses, conversation tends to revolve around what the team did (or is doing) wrong, sort of a PTSD sort of reaction that tries to prevent the trauma after it has already wounded us. But, I don’t know. This Islanders game was just weird. It was messy. And it didn’t come anywhere close to canceling out the wonderful vibes from Stephen Johns’s first goal in a couple seasons Monday night.

In fact, Johns sat Tuesday, as per the previously arranged plan, and the Stars’ defense (as a team) noticeably sagged. How noticeably? Uh, this noticeably:

So, you know, not exactly stifling, that. But the team was tired, as Bowness admitted after the game, and fatigue is going to show up in physical and mental ways.

Thankfully, the power play scored a crucial goal (after doing so multiple times against the Rangers, one hastens to add). And while you’d love for your PK to stand tall in five tries, you’re going to give up a power play goal if you give the other side enough darts to throw. It just sorta stinks that the Stars couldn’t kill of that last one.

These are all things you could write about a lot of goals and games, though. This game had some specific, weird, and wonderful things. For instance, how about Mat Barzal’s casual tying goal that he picked from between his legs like he was grocery shopping? That’s the sort of thing that would have everyone reliving their draft nightmares, if not for the earlier goal by Denis Gurianov on the power play. Obviously Barzal is a star player in this league, and will be for a while. But Gurianov is one goal off the team lead (such as it is), and he’s been a weapon the Stars have genuinely and almost desperately needed this year. Gift horses and all that—or perhaps we should say gift thoroughbreds.

The disallowed goal was about as obvious a goaltender interference challenge as you’re going to see, and you could tell Bishop felt vindicated because of his vociferous challenge for (I think) a hand pass about 25 seconds before the Barzal goal. There was nothing definitive there from what I saw, but it did remind me of that uncalled hand pass against the Sharks back in 2008 (their only regulation goal in that game six), when Zubov and Turco both immediately went to the officials to inform them of the missed call. Would I rather have that game change one bit with a retroactive challenge? No, I would not. So, let’s leave that call alone in this one, too. Five outta six points, you remember.

It’s interesting that Bowness chose to lament the lost final point in this one, though. You easily could just say “oh well” and move on, but I suppose when Benn has that chance early in OT and Radulov later spanks the crossbar, it’s a bit more excusable to wonder what could have been. Then again, the Islanders probably should have been up by a lot more than one goal after the first period—how many times have we said that about the Stars lately? Not many—so perhaps the universe tilts back and forth appropriately.

Jason Dickinson scored a sweet goal off a similarly nice feed from Andrew Cogliano on the rush (with Blake Comeau crashing the net to good effect). We saw it in the playoffs a bit last year, but I think this is Dickinson’s time, this year, right now. If he can stay in the lineup and keep playing like this, then no one will be surprised if he keeps getting more overtime shifts—did you notice him out there with Gurianov later?—and ice in critical minutes. He deserves it in spades.

Bishop and Khudobin had similar games in these last two nights, I thought. Some really stellar moments when they needed them, but a couple of really forgettable goals at bad times, too. The difference was that the Stars scored five goals in one game, and only three in another. Although saying the Stars scored “only” three goals feels a bit like saying I “only” own five sourdough bread conglomerates. (I do not.)

That’s my worry for the playoffs, as I’ve said once or twice before. Goaltending is performed by fallible humans, and Bishop seems a bit more susceptible to the sharp-angle goal than most (although Khudobin joined that club on Monday, too). The Stars allowed three regulation goals in both of these games, but one of them felt a lot less stressful than the other one. Scoring will do that. But hey, say it with me again: Five outta six. Five outta six.

Corey Perry had a nice assist, and I suppose that’s great. Veterans need confidence, too, and if the Stars are as hell-bent on maxing out his games-played performance bonuses as most teams are with players like him, then they might as well get him going as well as he can. You resign yourself to things at a certain point, and then you start to find pleasant surprises coming up amid your adjusted expectations.

John Klingberg scored a timely goal, and even if that goal was largely the result of Varlamov pulling his own bit of nonsense upon himself, you take that, right now. I noticed that Bowness put Klingberg back on the top power play unit (if you can call it that) after having Heiskanen up with Seguin and Pavelski for a couple of games, and I think that’s the better path. Klingberg’s vision and creativity flourish when he has players who know what he’s trying to do, or capable of trying. He can be a lethal power play quarterback when the unit is clicking, so that’s probably the utopia I would chase, were I Derek Laxdal. Get your best players playing their best, and there’s nothing they can’t do.

That’s where I’m at with the Stars, right now. The Hintz/Benn/Seguin line looks like a lot of fun, and I really do think that could solve a lot of problems for Dallas, although I’m still skeptical about putting a player like Janmark with Radulov and Pavelski. Dickinson, in my mind, should be playing with Pavelski and maybe Gurianov. If the minutes are going to be fairly even as Bowness has kept them so far, then you can sprinkle Radulov in more than enough to keep his sabre sharp. Heck, why not put him with Perry for some OZ shifts here and there? If Perry is this sleeping giant of a timely scorer, Radulov’s speed, strength, and vision should be a great fit. But line combos are just rabbit hunts for people who bet on inside straights, aren’t they?

If you adjust your expectations, then this team has a lot to offer. They’re strong enough to finish in the top three of their division—something they have only done one time since 2008—and that might mean facing a strong team like Colorado in the first round, when they are (hopefully) healthy and relatively fresh. Look, any time you’re talking about playoff matchups, things are pretty good. I’m not saying the Stars don’t still have all the same problems we’ve talked about many times. You know what they are, or at least I’ve harped on it enough to the point where you are capable of knowing that. But in these final 29 games, the Stars both know what they have to do and look capable of, to some extent, doing it. For this franchise, this year, that might be something you take with open arms. If you can.