Last summer, when the Dallas Stars announced that Corey Perry had been signed to a one-year deal, many fans were torn. After all, he had been the villain many a night when the Stars were in the Pacific Division taking on Perry’s Anaheim Ducks several times a season. The Perry spearing on Jamie Benn in the playoffs in 2016 was pretty infamous around here.
But my, how the tides change when Perry is the reason the Stars aren’t going home after Game 5.
All of Ben Bishop, Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, and Roope Hintz, and Stephen Johns were ruled “unfit to play” prior to the game tonight. While Bishop and Johns have been out for most of the playoffs and Faksa has been out of the lineup since Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, Comeau and Hintz’s injuries piled onto the Stars at the worst time of the postseason — the Stanley Cup Final. Comeau has missed Games 3 and 4 of this series and Hintz was injured in Game 4 after going hard into the boards on a tripping penalty that went uncalled.
Faksa and Comeau are some of the key penalty killers of the Stars, and their absence is very evident on the special teams ledger in the Final. Jason Dickinson also appeared to be injured tonight, leaving warmups early and gingerly taking laps at the end of the warmup period to see if he could go. For a hot minute, it looked like Jason Robertson may have been tapped to enter the lineup, but Dickinson was on the bench to start the game.
But it wasn’t Dickinson that left Game 5 for the Stars. It was Andrej Sekera, who went down the tunnel in the first period after a big shot block. He would return to the bench in the third period, after leaving Dallas with a shortened bench for the whole second period on the latter end of a back-to-back. Dallas effectively rolled with four blueliners with Sekera out, with Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg playing slightly more than 17 minutes of the first 40 minutes of the game (or nearly half the game to that point.) Esa Lindell and Jamie Oleksiak weren’t far behind, with roughly 16 minutes each.
On the positive side in Game 5, the Stars were able to limit their time in the penalty box. That was an obvious area of focus for the team, given how the Lightning have gone scorched earth on the man advantage in the Final. Dallas had just one penalty in the game, an early kill courtesy of a hi-sticking by Tyler Seguin after a faceoff in the offensive zone. The Stars weathered the storm early, and seemed to garner some momentum and confidence for themselves with the successful kill.
The negative side of special teams, though, was that Tampa Bay was similarly disciplined, taking two penalties themselves — a Carter Verhaege slashing on Miro Heiskanen in the second period, and a Erik Cernak hi-sticking on Joe Pavelski in the third period after a missed hi-sticking by Heiskanen just moments before. (Some said that Heiskanen’s hi-stick drew blood which would have been a double minor against the Stars. The uncalled penalties this series for both teams could be an entire story in itself.) The first half of that power play chance was disjointed and had trouble getting into the zone, but the second half generated some quality looks.
Andrei Vaselivskiy, of course, was a brick wall, and Dallas’ power play remained ice cold. Though the power play didn’t produce yet again, it did give Dallas the momentum needed that led to Joe Pavelski’s tying goal that came off a faceoff win immediately after the man advantage expired.
Pavelski had another massive game for the Stars in the playoffs. In the post-game media availability, Seguin was asked about what it’s like to watch Pavelski and Perry lead the team to the win in Game 5 as some of the oldest players on the team. He joked that he wasn’t sure you can really call them old when they’re able to skate and make plays like they have been this postseason.
The veteran experience provided by Pavelski and Perry isn’t just the goal scoring, though (which is major, don’t misunderstand). It’s also what they bring to the locker room. After the first overtime, in which Dallas had just two shots on goal, Seguin revealed that Pavelski and Perry spoke with the team and told them they needed to “go after it”. He credited that talk to the Stars coming out more aggressive in the second overtime, and dictating the pace of play instead of sitting back and playing it safe as they had done in the first 20 minutes of overtime.
LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY
Once again, the Stars’ resiliency came through in this game. The win in Game 5 staved off the Lightning from hoisting Lord Stanley and taking the Stars out by a 4-1 margin. They’ll have to get two more wins in a row if they want to raise the silver chalice themselves, a tall order against a stout Tampa Bay team.
“We enjoy being called underdogs,” Seguin said after the game. “....In the bubble, everyone seemingly choosing the other team” throughout the playoffs has not gone unnoticed. “We believe in this dressing room,” Perry said. “We believe we can go out and get this done.”
Game 6 is Monday night as the relentless pace of the Stanley Cup Final schedule marches on.