Many people will be waking up on Friday morning expecting to see the Dallas Stars on the bad end of a shellacking.
Many people will also be totally bewildered when they see the final score and realizing the Stars wrapped up their series with the Calgary Flames instead courtesy of six unanswered goals.
This game felt weird from the start. Maybe it’s the bubble, maybe it was the idea of seeing a “handshake” line during a global pandemic, maybe it was just that it was a long Thursday and a 9:30 PM CDT puck drop here in Dallas.
Or maybe it was that the Stars found themselves leading a series 3-2 with a chance to eliminate their opponent, and that story has gone both ways in recent years. (A Game 6 win versus the Nashville Predators and a series win, and a Game 6 loss to the St. Louis Blues that forced a Game 7 against a team they can’t seem to get past.)
For a team that said they knew they would have to handle a desperate opponent facing elimination, the Stars looked far from ready for what that actuality would look like. The Flames came out absolutely flying from the jump, getting pucks past the Stars in the offensive zone and hammering them at Anton Khudobin’s net. They pounced on uncertain puck possession by the Stars, forcing turnovers in the defensive zone and turning them into scoring chances.
By the time the first 6:30 of the game had passed, the Flames had a 6-0 lead in shots on goal and a 3-0 lead on the scoreboard. They absolutely sucker-punched the Stars, and the guys in Victory Green were left reeling.
Interim head coach Rick Bowness called a timeout shortly after in an effort to calm his team down. For a team that was full of veteran leadership, as has been pointed out by everyone from the players to the coaching staff to the general manager this season, they looked like a bunch of rookies in their first postseason appearance. Not like a team that had the killer instinct necessary to put the series away.
Enter the calmest player on the team: Miro Heiskanen.
On a power play, Heiskanen put in a blistering shot from above the faceoff circle after some good puck movement by Dallas. Getting that one in before the period ended went a long way to building the Stars up for a comeback, even if those watching didn’t know it at the time. “That was an important goal for us,” Heiskanen said after the game. “It kind of stopped their push,” Joe Pavelski said.
The Stars set a franchise postseason record with five goals scored in the middle frame since they relocated to Dallas more than 25 years ago.
Though we’ll likely never truly know what was said during the intermission in the locker room, the Stars that came out in the second period looked ready to impost their will on the game.
Denis Gurianov got things rolling when he took the puck and fired it past Cam Talbot just 59 seconds into the period. He scored again at 3:25 of the middle frame on a point shot that trickled in as Joe Pavelski provided a screen in front of the net.
All of a sudden, the game was tied and the Stars were the one delivering the sucker-punch.
Remember that time the Stars went down 0-3 to the Wild and stormed back to win 6-3 and spark their 14-1-1 streak that saved their season?— Taylor Baird (@taylordbaird) August 21, 2020
Thus it appeared that Talbot’s night would end, with David Rittich taking over the Flames net in relief.
Rittich did not fare much better, as he also allowed three goals with the Stars on their way to seven unanswered goals on the evening.
The Stars got another power play tally when Gurianov shot the puck towards Rittich and it bounced off of him. Faksa found the rebound for goal number four. Goal five came courtesy of Joe Pavelski, who collected a Heiskanen shot off a rebound and put it into the yawning cage left open by Rittich.
Goal six capped off Gurianov’s hat trick of the night, the second by a Stars player in this series and only the second hat trick in postseason history for this franchise. He took a puck on a breakaway. With only one defender between him and the net, Gurianov shot the puck between the blueliner’s legs and five hole past Rittich before he even appeared to have time to respond to the shot coming his way.
Dallas was brutally efficient in the second period: they scored five goals on just 12 shots on goal.
Gurianov wasn’t done yet, though. He set an all-time high of four goals in one postseason game in franchise history when he punctured Talbot one more time. Talbot had come in to start the third period in relief of Rittich. (Really, neither Flames goaltender had their A-game tonight.)
After that, the Stars were content to let the Flames try to work their way back into the game. Khudobin was up to the challenge when needed, and the Stars worked to keep the Flames to the perimeter. Nothing was particularly close to going in, and the Flames limped out of the round as the Stars move onto round two.
The two teams met at center ice and went through the handshake line, one of the best parts of the playoffs in the NHL. The Flames will exit the bubble and start looking for answers for where they go from here. Dallas will be looking towards the Colorado Avalanche, who they will face in the next round.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.”