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Afterwords: Unlikely Heroics and Likable Heroes

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Corey Perry and Jamie Oleksiak: Dallas Stars Playoff Legends

Calgary Flames v Dallas Stars - Game Two Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

And the shame, was on the other side

Oh, we can beat them, oh, forever and ever

Then we could be heroes, oh, just for one day

***

The Stars won this unexpected punchline of a game 5-4 after Jamie Oleksiak scored a goal with the Stars temporarily up a player by the same margin: five to four.

Then a Corey Perry pass through the guts of the ice was just out of reach of the diminutive Johnny Gaudreau, and right onto the tape of the enormous Oleksiak. It’s a game of inches, they say, but sometimes a lot of inches.

It was ridiculous, and frankly, a play that Calgary should be ashamed of. The circumstances of late line changes can be hectic, even moreso now with the rule about heading straight the bench after a helmet’s falling off. But after coming back from a two-goal deficit—by the way, aren’t these Stars supposed to be good at locking down leads? Isn’t that the whole reason they eviscerated their formerly offensive system?—to tie the game late in the third, that was a pretty major bummer of a way to end it, for Calgary.

For Dallas, of course, that Oleksiak goal salvaged a win after squandering a dominant performance, through 40 minutes.

It reminded me a lot of game six against Anaheim back in 2014, when Trevor Daley did his best Miro Heiskanen impression (don’t think about it)

That game also ended with the Stars coughing up a two-goal lead late in the third period, with Corey Perry playing a heroic role. The Stars would end up losing that game, and the series, in overtime.

So maybe you can say Thursday night (Friday morning?) was a time of flipping the script. Maybe it was an instance of taking the flaws from yesteryear and demonstrating a proof of concept for a new solution. Maybe these Stars are more resilient.

If so, that would be great. Because Miro Heiskanen is not going to score two goals every night, and Jamie Oleksiak is certainly not going to be scoring one goal, most nights.

Esa Lindell lost Dillon Dube on the first goal of the night, which is pretty inexcusable, given what Dube did to the Stars in game one. Jamie Oleksiak had a rough step-up at the blue line that ended up preventing a backcheck from (if memory serves) Jamie Benn. The penalty kill as a group broken down yet again on Sam Bennett’s game-tying power play goal, allowing a pass right through the box to set up an easy dunk. Ben Bishop didn’t offer much in the way of reminders that he was the reason the Stars lasted seven games against the Blues last year. John Klingberg reminded us that even in a series where he’s looking much better than he did in the season, he’s still capable of some loose puck play (off, it must be said, a rough Benn pass in the third period on ice that had seen three hockey games in one day). Alex Radulov continued to prove that plays certain players can get away with will always, always result in his incarceration.

But the Stars scored five goals, and they controlled a lot of the game, and they evened the series. These are not inconsequential things.

Before the game, I was stumping for Klingberg and Heiskanen to get as many minutes as they could handle. What that ended up looking like was Taylor Fedun somehow getting half the minutes of Thomas Harley in the round robin, because apparently Fedun’s solid play, solid numbers, and great hockey IQ aren’t something Rick Bowness trusts in a playoff series. The ghosts of last year still haunt this coaching staff, it seems.

HockeyViz.com is awesome

That said, Fedun and Sekera ate a minus, so you can’t really expect much to change if Johns continues to miss games. It’s unfortunate, but this has been Fedun’s lot ever since Bowness was running the defense for Jim Montgomery last spring, so I don’t know what I was really expecting.

Still, Andrej Sekera is the weak point of that pairing, and no mistake. He had an egregious giveaway last night right onto Calgary’s tape in the defensive zone—the sort of play rookies get benched for and veterans get another shift after which to redeem themselves, because they have Been There Before. Sometimes revisiting old issues doesn’t necessitate improvement, though.

If you look just at goals, then you can look at those lines and pairings and conclude two things: 1) That the top line played like they had something to prove, and they proved it, and 2) that Miro Heiskanen and Jamie Oleksiak are doing whatever they want right now.

We’ll see if they can keep it up in tonight’s game—one would expect the younger legs of the Flames to look better—but you have to give a ton of credit to Benn, Seguin, and Radulov for validating Rick Bowness’s doubling down on them. They showed a gear we haven’t really seen from them in some time, and from their first shift after the Flames’ goal through the end of the second period, they looked like a line well and truly leaving it all on the ice. Say what you will about their ages and arcs, but that’s some solid effort and admirable passion when the team really needed it.

I suppose if they’re going to play like that, then Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov can keep getting the least 5v5 ice time of any forwards (as they did Thursday) without the Stars being completely unable to score. So long as you get three goals from the defense and a power play goal from Corey Perry, you don’t need your best young scorers doing much, I suppose.

Granted, that assumes that Corey Perry—he who scored just a single power play goal in the entire regular season—and Heiskanen-Oleksiak can carry the team’s offense consistently, and I’m not sure that’s a bet you’d be wise to take. Again, let’s be clear: the top forward line was on the ice for a lot of goals, but the only one they actually scored was a blind backhand from Radulov that bounced in off another skater’s leg. Measured joy is still joy, though.

If you’re concerned that the Stars won’t score five goals again tonight but could well give up four right now, then I think I have to agree with you. Granted, Khudobin probably goes tonight, and he’s looked better than Bishop for most of the year (and lately in particular). And granted, Miro Heiskanen is so dominant right now that he really can win a game for you on any given night, if you just don’t totally wet the bed when he’s off the ice.

By the way, did you realize that, between Radulov’s backhand and Heiskanen’s no-look goal from the half wall, the Stars scored two goals while the shooters were looking away from the net last night? If that doesn’t encapsulate the Dallas Stars offense, I’m not sure what does.

The problems weren’t solved last night, but they were compensated for just enough to avoid a heartbreaking collapse. A 1-1 series is well and truly anybody’s to take, but you’re not wrong to wonder what on earth the Dallas Stars are going to bring to the table on any given night, let alone in any given period. Coaches love consistency, particularly the boring kind, and the Stars are able to provide just about everything except that, right now.

The Flames have shown an ability to punch back. The Stars have shown an ability to surprise everyone, from their coach on out. I don’t think I’ve seen anything through two games that makes me doubt my original “Dallas in Six” prediction, but that has a little more to do with how the Flames lost this game as it does with how the Stars won it.

Dallas’s power play is a slow, methodical umbrella, one that required three or four whacks from Corey Perry on an erstwhile Cam Talbot to finally shovel the puck in. But it’s like they say—your power play doesn’t have to win you every game, but it really can’t lose you one. A shorthanded goal and an unimaginative approach might be good enough against a Calgary team that was scuffling for most of the game last night, but these Stars are designed to be able to walk a four-goal output to victory street and back with ease. Instead, it took some late-minute heroics from Oleksiak, and some 60-minute magic from Heiskanen.

The playoffs are supposed to be wild and fun, though. We’ve seen great teams get beaten by middling ones already, and there’s no reason to suppose that Dallas is any less capable than, say, Arizona of beating a team like Calgary. The Stars had the same amount of regulation wins as the Coyotes this year, which you probably won’t hear advertised on the Ticket too much. But the Flames actually had fewer regulation wins than either of them.

If you’re the Flames, you can afford to go the Geoff Ward route and dismiss this game and move on to Friday night. It’s obvious what they did wrong, and they’ve demonstrated the capability to handle Dallas in game one. Now, they’ll be preparing with maybe a different goaltender, and maybe a different approach on Heiskanen, whom they can’t seem to check for love nor money right now. And really, that might be enough.

Or Dallas might be able to scrounge up some more goals. Maybe Lindell will find his game again and start making that Klingberg pairing look like the top unit it used to be. Maybe Gurianov and Hintz will prove you all right about deserving more ice time (as though they haven’t already done that), and lead the Stars to victory alongside their counterpart on the “second” defense pairing.

Remember how fun it was, for a few minutes, to watch Trevor Daley finally looking like the lightning-fast offensive-defenseman you’d always wanted him to be? That was pure joy, even if it ended in heartbreak. Daley then went to the Penguins and won a Stanley Cup. It was poetic, in its way.

So who knows? Maybe another defenseman Dallas gave up on a couple years ago and shipped to Pittsburgh will show that he really did turn a corner for good and bring that sort of poetry back to town, as he’s done in small (big) ways for most of the season. If you had told me five years ago that Jamie Oleksiak would be scoring a game-winning playoff goal for Dallas in the final minute of a game while playing across the ice from a Norris-caliber defenseman, I would have been ecstatic, you know? It’s okay to delight in the unlikely purely because of how unlikely it would have seemed, at one time. Sports are that. Maybe something equally unlikely will delight us in game three. Like, I dunno, the Stars’ best goal-scorer being given more than seven minutes of 5v5 ice time, to pick a hypothetical example.

I digress, though. None of us knows what the next Stars game is going to look like, because they haven’t really shown that they know how to repeat the same 60 minutes of quality, let alone whether they’re interested in doing so. All I really do know is that we’ll have to stay up until stinkin’ midnight again to find out. As if I don’t lose enough sleep over this hockey team already.