Sunday afternoon’s Game 4 thriller between the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames was an in-your-face reminder of the purity and greatness of sports. Where else can one find the range of drama, chaos, frustration, and elation that culminates across a 76 minute hockey game in August?
I’d argue that you can’t find it many places outside of sports.
Which is why the emotional 5-4 overtime win for the Dallas Stars in Game 4 is so poetic and such a massive step for a team facing lofty expectations and even bigger criticism. For all of the emotions the fans experienced on Sunday, the players probably felt them too (even if they — understandably — refuse to admit it). However, the impressive part of the win is that they did feel the ebbs and flows of the game — and the club responded time and again.
In the face of going down three games to one, blowing two leads, and giving up a third shorthanded goal, the Stars could have packed up their puck and went home to lick their wounds. They refused to do so, and with 12 seconds left, a Tyler Seguin contortion routine, a hat trick goal from Joe Pavelski, and the eventual Alexander Radulov overtime winner, the Stars arguably arrived in full force in this Stanley Cup playoffs.
For all the details selected to unpack from this tilt, that one statement is the overriding success from the afternoon.
Joe Pavelski Takes Center Stage
Joe Pavelski was signed last summer for performances like the one he turned in on Sunday afternoon.
Pavelski was everything and more that this club needed to ultimately come back and win a game that was as close to a must win as anything we’ve seen thus far. He continually won the net front battle, was physical, had a huge blocked shot in overtime, and oh, he scored a working mans hat trick.
He also was a catalyst for the Stars’ offensive outpouring yesterday. He opened the scoring by mopping up a puck in the slot to give the Stars their first opening lead of the series. His second goal was a beauty of a shot that rang the pipe behind Cam Talbot, answering a power play goal the Flames scored less than two minutes earlier. Finally, the third goal of the game is the one that may have saved the Stars’ postseason dreams. With 11.9 seconds left in regulation, Pavelski forced his way to the front of the net, gained position, and slipped a rebound five hole on Talbot to force overtime.
It was a beautiful game from a veteran player that Jim Nill brought in for precisely this reason. In one afternoon Pavelski washed away the career low offensive totals from the regular season, and became the Stars most indispensable forward.
For an entire season the Stars have struggled to score goals, and that means the Stars need to score ugly goals to win games. Yes, the Stars are dangerous off of the rush, but those shots aren’t going into the net so far in this series. The strength of Game 4 for the Stars was their ability to finally score ugly goals that they will need to win games.
Pavelski has made his career earnings by dominating the net front and ripping, tipping, or shoveling in pucks behind goaltenders from the hash marks in. If the Stars can continue to see this version of playoff Pavelski, that added element to their game could be bigger than could possibly be measured.
Tyler Seguin is Coming On
Over the past three games it is becoming more and more apparent that Tyler Seguin is about to break out in a big way.
The top line center and the Stars’ highest paid forward is starting to lock in, is looking faster, and is finding the soft areas of the ice to shoot from. If not for a couple of posts in Games 3 and 4, the Stars probably lead the series three games to one.
Seguin’s chance in Game 3 that rang the elbow of the post is a snipers shot. Eventually those pucks will start to beat goaltenders.
In Game 4, Seguin looked dangerous all afternoon long and registered his first two points of the series by assisting on two of Pavelski’s three goals. Along with the assists, Seguin recorded four shots on net in 25 minutes of ice time. Seguin also made arguably the second biggest play of the afternoon when he stretched to stay onside before the game tying goal.
This saved the Stars season. pic.twitter.com/C8UvyaPJVb— Robert McClay III (@McClayR21) August 16, 2020
The presence of mind here from Seguin to stretch out and plant his foot on the blue line is incredible in itself. If that foot is even slightly off of the ice the Stars are down in this series and facing elimination on Tuesday night.
It’s the small details in a game that determine the entire outcome at the end of the day. Yes, Pavelski scored the goal, but Seguin put them in a spot for that goal to stand upon review for offsides after the team had a tying goal wiped out due to goaltender interference just minutes before.
If Seguin can take it a step further and pop a couple of goals in the balance of this series, the Stars have an extra element that the Flames do not have an answer for.
Pucks on Net and Pucks in Net
The biggest talking point going against the Stars coming into this series was their absolute inability to score goals.
How things seem to change on a dime.
With the exception of Game 3, in which Cam Talbot utterly stole one from the club, the Stars have had minimal issues finding the back of the net. Dallas has scored five goals in the series twice, and has a total of 12 goals in the four games. The Stars only managed to score five goals in four games during the exhibition and round robin.
This sudden offensive output is something the Stars have sorely lacked and is a welcome sight to Stars fans and players alike. It also seems like the club is feeding off of the confidence that scoring four or five goals can do for a group. The Stars are shooting the puck more and more, which means the decision making for the players is becoming quicker. Sure, there have been double clutches, missed nets, and big stops, but you don’t register 62 shots on net by not shooting the puck.
The Stars have no issues shooting the puck in this series and it is creating a host of issues for the Flames defense. Talbot gives up rebounds as a matter of course, and the volume is highlighting this fact by forcing the Flames into dangerous net-mouth situations. The Stars are also using the rebounds to feed their cycle and create more chances on offense.
Shoot the puck and good things happen. The Stars have obviously bought into that mind set and are being rewarded for it.
As the Stars have opened up their offensive game in this series, it seems to be affecting the defensive side of the game as well.
The club has been leaky in the past three games, surrendering a total of ten goals in that time. However, only four of the ten goals scored by the Flames in that span have been at even strength, and the Flames only have six total goals at even strength for the series. The Flames are doing most of their damage on both ends of the special teams spectrum.
Seven of the Flames’ 13 goals in the series have come while on the power play or shorthanded. It really shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Flames have scored four power play goals, as Calgary does a lot of their offensive damage while up a man. The Stars can probably live with that fact, as they’ve been able to choke the life out of the Flames at five on five.
However, the inexcusable fact is that the Flames have scored three shorthanded goals that have directly led to one loss, and almost tacked on another in Game 4. Obviously something needs to change here or the Stars are going to eventually fall to the Flames because of this. One shorthanded goal? Fine, they happen from time to time. Three, however, should never happen in the span of a handful of games, and especially in the manner in which they are happening.
The Stars are finding themselves burned by lazy plays with the puck, lack of support down the ice, and bad angling. These are all correctable, and it can be assumed that the coaching staff has had just about enough of the Flames padding their stats while on the penalty kill.
If the Stars don’t surrender shorthanded goals in two of these first four games of the series, the results could be dramatically different.
Also of note, the Stars need to do something about their third defensive pairing, which has been made of Taylor Fedun and Andrej Sekera the last two games. The Flames offense is feeding on the matchup when this pairing is on the ice, much like the St. Louis Blues did in the 2019 playoffs. Compounding the issue is the fact that the more those two struggle, the more the minutes start to rise for Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg, which opens both players up to the physical toll of the Flames’ forecheck.
Until Stephen Johns is deemed healthy enough to play again, the Stars have some decisions to make. They need a third pair that they can comfortably put out there for ten minutes a night, while Klingberg and Heiskanen play half the game essentially. What seems to be missing from the third pairing is a puck-moving defenseman that the coaching staff trusts. It’s becoming apparent that they don’t have the trust in the taxi squad blueliners to play these minutes in the playoffs. If they did, this third pairing wouldn’t still be constructed this way.
Finding an answer for that part of the roster could be the difference in the series.