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Afterwords: Khudobin Does in Avs, Power Play Plays Powerfully, and Lindellol

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The Avs’ tears are sweet nectar, on this day

Dallas Stars v Colorado Avalanche - Game Two Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The clever ways I try to change

Happen and pass leaving me the same

Of course it must be something else

Leading questions I might ask myself

***

The narrative fans woke up to this morning was a bit different than you might have expected, if you watched last night’s game.

After Anton Khudobin continued his stoic heroics to keep the Stars in the game until they got going, Dallas finally cashed in on two of their three total power plays to get right back in the game just a few seconds after Colorado went up 2-0 in the second period.

That sounds like the start of a “stolen game” narrative, right? Goalie lets your team hang around, power play gets a soft call and cashes in, and somehow you hang on to win it.

Except, that’s not what happened. The Avs got five straight power plays at the end of the game, including an extended 5-on-3 of their own to match Dallas’s. But the Dallas PK (and Khudobin) came up aces (with a crossbar in there on the two-man advantage), and Colorado failed to execute. Then Dallas locked things down in the third period, killing off another late penalty during which the Avs couldn’t muster much, and walked away with a 5-2 win.

Over coffee this morning, however, I was reading the “controversy” narratives coming out from ESPN and the Avalanche players (and coach) themselves. The Esa Lindell goal, in which he beat his man down the ice, then out-muscled Sam Girard on the doorstep to whack a puck in, was suddenly a point of controversy.

The claims are, understandably, that the referee appeared to call a goal on the ice as a result not of seeing the puck go over the line, but of seeing Esa Lindell’s celebratory reaction.

Before we get into the weeds on all this, let me just say this: the Avalanche are clearly focusing on this narrative instead of the “we failed to execute” narrative because they are trying to manufacture emotion, to avoid getting down on themselves. Colorado is now down 2-0 in the series, and Jared Bednar already fired his “we didn’t show up” bullets after game one. To point out, after two games, that he has gotten zero production from anyone other than the Nathan MacKinnon line, and that he got zero even-strength goals despite outright dominating Dallas in game two? Well, then you risk letting Anton Khudobin embed himself even deeper with the Colorado Avalanche psyche.

If Bednar gets his team angry, feeling cheated, then perhaps they can muster the effort that was, most clearly, lacking for much of the game Monday. Nazem Kadri is suddenly not scoring, and even Nathan MacKinnon’s two-points-a-game pace—he really does look like the best hockey player in the universe right now, doesn’t he?—hasn’t been enough to even keep Colorado within one goal for two games now.

For the record, Dallas also deserved more power plays in this one, with Colorado running 2008 Detroit pick plays all over the ice, which is exactly what I would do, too, when it’s not being called.

But Dallas, of course, isn’t complaining about it to the media, because they’re executing elsewhere. Were the shoe on the other foot, they likely would be at least mentioning some of the egregious no-calls on Colorado. Thankfully, the shoe is not.

Dallas is getting some luck, certainly. A couple of posts now, and certainly that Alex Radulov goal, like the Blake Comeau goal in game one, were rather fortunate. No one’s saying Dallas deserved to score five goals in both games—certainly, Dallas deserved to be down five goals in the first period of this one, goaltending being equal.

But goaltending isn’t equal in this series, not even close. Anton Khudobin is playing like the goalie equivalent of, well, Nathan MacKinnon. And there is almost nothing more frustrating than outplaying the skaters for most of 60 minutes, only to have the guy dressed up like a tire store mascot foiling your efforts with almost mysterious ease.

Khudobin had a couple saves that were clearly positional last night, no question. He had a power play save with his glove that, as Eddie Olczyk pointed out, was just the puck hitting his glove. Dallas got some puck luck, certainly. But that’s what happens when you have good enough players to hang around in games like this. The goalie is a player too, and often the most important one.

So with Pavel Francouz performing some questionable goaltending by stacking the pads on an Esa Lindell—Esa Lindell!—rush with Mattias Janmark, that opened the door for a break for Dallas, just as the bad play before the rush led to the rush itself, and so on. These things don’t happen in a vacuum.

But to talk about this play for just a second, I present this:

However, one part of the frustration that I don’t think is being discussed enough is the fact that NBC didn’t even have the best camera angle to show the goal, leading to more frustration than was perhaps warranted by a lot of fans.

It was Canada, instead, who had the angle that shows the best evidence for the goal. That’s pretty bad—ahem—execution by NBC, if you ask me. No one ever seems to, though. (Good.)

Anyway, was Dan O’Rourke (or whoever it was) wrong to call a goal he didn’t see? Well, sure. Just as officials aren’t supposed to call penalties based on player reactions—but of course they do all the time, on high sticking fouls and hooks and such—they also shouldn’t rely on player reactions for goal calls. That’s a bad break for the Avalanche, given that the official’s announcement suggested merely “the call on the ice stands,” as opposed to its being “confirmed.” Still, I think that angle is enough to call a goal, all parallax discussions aside.

But again, what are we talking about, here? The fourth goal in a 5-2 win. Corey Perry played better than half of the Avalanche forwards in this game, and Jason Dickinson looked like a man on a mission, and often succeeded. The FCC line rocked the third period to sleep, and the power play came up huge when it needed to, for Dallas.

The Avalanche, in short, lost this game not because of any one call, but because of multiple, internal failures to execute better on the chances they created. Sure, one goal review can change things, but my goodness, if you don’t think the officials were giving the Avs a bit more of a power play leash than playoff officials normally do as a makeup gesture for that goal-call, I don’t know what to tell you. Again, five power plays in a row, one of which came in the back half of the third period, with plenty of time to make a comeback.

The chances were there, for Colorado. Some luck was there, for Dallas. But ultimately, this hockey game was won by the team who deserved to win it, because they the team with the best player on the ice: Anton Khudobin.

The Stars’ defensemen have been better than the Avs, and the Stars’ depth has outscored the Avs’ depth to an infinite degree, technically speaking. The goaltending has also been better, as we may have mentioned. And when that Oleksiak clearance/shot trickled into the net with Girard pursuing it slowly enough to hope for an icing, only to have the puck curl into the net instead? Well, that felt like the whole game, right there. Makar should’ve grabbed the puck when he had the chance. The Avs should have scored more than one goal in the first period, or more than zero goals at even-strength, in any period.

I don’t have a problem in the world with NBC or whoever lauding Nathan MacKinnon. He’s playing like vintage Ovechkin right now, except better. He’s a marvel to watch, and he’s carrying his team. But it turns out, Jamie Oleksiak and company had longer arms in this game. And many hands make light work of anyone when they’re hardly scoring on you.