Before the Dallas Stars started their series against the Colorado Avalanche, most prognosticators didn’t give the Stars much of a chance. After all, the Avalanche had steamrolled through the Arizona Coyotes while the Stars had to slog one out against the Calgary Flames.
“The Stars don’t score enough to keep up with the high-flying Avalanche team.”
Little did anyone know, the Stars actually have more than enough offensive fire-power to keep up with what most considered a Stanley Cup favorite team. Now, they have pushed that team to the brink of elimination.
Dallas need just one more win to appear in the Western Conference Finals.
This may be the closest to a perfect playoff period that the Stars may manage this year.
From even before the puck first dropped, the Stars set a tone early that they were ready for a fight. Each player in Victory Green seemed to be dead set on hitting anything in white and burgundy. Jamie Benn’s opening shift especially seemed to indicate that the captain was feeling his game today, and usually good things happen for the team when he’s feeling that way.
Today was no different.
Corey Perry was called for goaltender interference early into the game. In previous games, the Stars coaching staff and players have remarked that a good penalty kill can actually give the team momentum. That’s exactly what this one did for Dallas as they managed to keep Colorado from recording a shot on goal throughout the entire man advantage.
In fact, Dallas would keep the Avalanche from recording a shot on goal for the first 18:34 of the game.
While the Stars dominated the ice, they were also rewarded for the effort where it counted.
John Klingberg got the scoring started for Dallas by crashing the net. After the puck came loose on Radek Faksa’s shot, Klingberg executed a well-timed drive by to the right of the goaltender, collected the puck, and elevated it over to give the Stars their first lead of the game.
Radek Faksa would get the second goal by being in the net front on the power play. After Roope Hintz’s shot got through and created a rebound, Faksa was able to be in the right place to put it home. After drawing another power play for his team, Benn would deftly tip an Alexander Radulov shot to give the Stars a 3-0 lead, and they’d take that into the second period.
After one, Dallas had won the shots on goal metric and the hits metric. They were leading where it mattered most — the scoreboard. They won the special teams battle in the first period too, going 2-for-2 on the power play and 2-for-2 on the penalty kill. Basically, a near-perfect period for the team.
Oh, and to top off the first period play, Miro Heiskanen did something that not even Sergei Zubov did when he played in Dallas. Zubov is the standard that most offensive defenseman are measured against in Dallas, and Heiskanen has earned more than his fair share of comparisons to the Russian blueliner.
Miro Heiskanen recorded his team-leading 16th point since Aug. 1 and established a @DallasStars / North Stars franchise record for most in a postseason by a defenseman. #NHLStats #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/QaeaVFAlDC— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) August 30, 2020
The Stars did a good job of bending but not breaking when the Avalanche came out better in the second period. Both teams played a bit of a tighter game, and Anton Khudobin was more than up to the task when he was tested.
Finally, after working their way up to it all period, the Avalanche would find some space and an opening to end their shutout. Valeri Nichushkin was at the right time and the right place near Khudobin’s net and buried a loose puck a little over 13 minutes into the middle frame.
Corey Perry, who drew three penalties alone in the period and had been a pestering presence in Pavel Francouz’s net all game long, took a Nathan MacKinnon shoulder to the jaw. MacKinnon was called for interference even though he did have the puck on his stick, and sat for two minutes while interim head coach Rick Bowness lobbied that it should have been longer.
Dallas was unable to convert on the power play, and then it was Colorado’s chance to use a penalty kill to swing momentum in their favor.
In a goal-mouth scramble with the Stars fighting to keep Colorado from capitalizing on their puck possession domination for the last half of the second period, Blake Comeau and Jamie Oleksiak would take penalties on the same shift at the end of the period. That led to a full two minutes of 5-on-3 power play for the Avalanche. Unlike in Game 2 when they had an extended look at a similar situation, they converted in just 11 seconds, cutting the lead to 3-2 courtesy of Cale Makar.
Dallas would have nearly a minute and a half of penalty kill time to open the third period.
Though Dallas was able to kill the penalty off, it felt like the team was playing on their heels for much of the start of the last 20 minutes.
Again, though, the resiliency of the team to weather the push from the other team shined through. After spending the first five or six minutes letting Colorado dictate the pace and style of the game, Dallas drew another power play chance courtesy of Tyson Jost’s trip of Klingberg.
Roope Hintz would take a pass in the slot, and hold onto the puck long enough to allow a lane to open up with an Avalanche penalty killer falling in front of him in an effort to block the shot. He then sniped the corner, restoring a two-goal lead for the Stars.
Just 32 seconds later, Denis Gurianov would restore the three-goal lead the Stars had originally built up. Makar flubbed a pass from behind his net, leaving the puck sitting right on Francouz’s doorstep unattended. When your goaltender is positioned like this for the opponent coming in hot on a free puck, you’re going to have a bad time:
Thus ended Francouz’s night, as the Avalanche pulled him and put in Michael Hutchinson instead.
Valeri Nichushkin would go on hat trick watch when he scored his second of the night. With nearly three minutes of 6-on-5 play by the Avalanche with Hutchinson pulled at the end of the game, the Stars locked it down like they usually do. With 2.6 seconds left and appearing to tip off of Tyler Seguin’s stick, the lead was cut to 5-4.
But the clock ran out and Dallas skated away with the win. They don’t ask how, just how many — and now the Stars have a 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is tomorrow night, and the Stars can eliminate Colorado with a win.
We won’t have long to wait to see if they can do it. As for enjoying this moment, Benn said about the team, “We’re keeping our composure. We know how hard that Game 6 was against Calgary.” As Pavelski has said before this postseason, closing out a series is hard.
They won’t have much time to wait to see if they can make it a little easier on themselves by accomplishing it just 24 hours after taking a commanding 3-1 series lead.