Roughly halfway through last night’s Game 2, I couldn’t help but keep think about the following tweet Micah McCurdy made after the Dallas Stars clinched a playoff spot:
They are so incredibly bad at defending big leads and so incredibly good at chasing down one-goal deficits that they spend nearly all of their time tied, especially late in games. This is why you hear the anguished cries of the justifiably nervous stars fan so very often. pic.twitter.com/T3TI3T6F8I— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) April 28, 2022
Now, we didn’t see that fabled “incredibly good chasing down one goal deficits” performance in Game 1, but the overall sentiment is the same: Dallas spends the majority of their games tied, or at the very least close to it.
So you’ll forgive me if I was not surprised that we ended up with another 1-0 hockey game between Dallas and the Calgary Flames. Yes, the Stars technically scored a second time, but empty netters don’t really count, even if they’ve been the mortal enemy of Dallas (both this season and historically).
Such close games can be extremely stressful, or at least they would be if Dallas didn’t make them so boring. The fact of the matter is, it’s this exact style of play — low event with blocked shots out the wazoo — that Dallas has built an identity around. It’s why Jim Nill and Rick Bowness constantly talk about being “built for the playoffs,” and why we get quotes like this one from Tyler Seguin back in October:
“Just really Dallas Stars hockey, which was the last game. Maybe to the eye and some of you guys on Twitter (is) a little boring, maybe repetitive but it’s how we’re successful. We defend well, we compete hard, we win games 2-1. We’re pesky, we’re dirty and ugly.”— Saad Yousuf (@SaadYousuf126) October 21, 2021
— Tyler Seguin
Thus, the slogfest that was Game 2. Whereas Game 1 was marked by an incomplete effort in the first and third periods, the Stars were consistent throughout all three periods, slowing things down and minimizing Calgary’s offensive chances. And while defensive hockey isn’t new to Darryl Sutter and the Flames, they’re used to feasting in the offensive zone, hence why they were the sixth-highest scoring team with the second-best goal differential throughout the regular season.
Not so in the postseason so far: Calgary has yet to score a single even-strength goal throughout 120 minutes of play (which, to be fair, is only one less than the Stars). I specify “even-strength” as opposed to “5-on-5” because last night saw eight total minutes of 4-on-4 hockey. Much like Game 1, the onslaught of penalties throughout the first two periods no doubt messed with both team’s game plans, only this time it was Dallas who came out ahead.
While the result might have been flipped, Game 2 featured many of the same stars for Dallas. Once again, it was the Jake Oettinger show, as the sophomore goaltender earned his first career postseason shutout in just his second start. Two and a half weeks ago, I wrote about his late-season slump — in his six games since, he’s posted a .944 SV% and has allowed 3+ goals only once. Ironically, that three goal game was against Calgary, whose number he’s had these past two games:
Jake Oettinger has stopped 54/55 shots (.982 SV%) in his first two career playoff starts against one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL.— Tyler Mair (@mairican) May 6, 2022
And some of y'all were clamoring for Wedgewood to be the starter lol
John Klingberg also had a strong game, building off of the solid first period he had on Tuesday before getting ejected for fighting. Interestingly enough, getting Klingberg off the ice seems to be a point of interest for the Flames — the first 4-on-4 of the game came just 43 seconds in when Matthew Tkachuk got into a scuffle with Klingberg. There’s something to be said when a Stanley Cup Contender has keyed on a pending UFA who you haven’t extended yet, but that’s another story for a different time.
Regardless, it was a strong game from the Stars’ defender, even if he didn’t ultimately find his way onto the scoresheet. Instead, it was (naturally) the Stars’ top line that broke through early, after a turnover opened up Jason Robertson for a nice shot. It was then Joe Pavelski who did what he does best, tipping the puck expertly past Jacob Markstrom, who — like Oettinger — has only allowed a single goal across two games.
But most importantly for Dallas, it wasn’t just the usual suspects who contributed in a big way. Michael Raffl has been antagonizing Calgary all series long, playing aggressively and getting some decent opportunities. He was rewarded with the honor of scoring the empty netter, which was in turn assisted by Seguin, another player who had been putting pressure on Markstrom.
Perhaps most surprising was Denis Gurianov, who put together a solid defensive effort. Case and point: towards the end of the second period, he was able to use his speed to stop a breakaway for Calgary, which could have easily put Calgary on the board. And then there was Joel Hanley, who didn’t make any highlight reels but had some of the best #fancystats of the lot:
#NHL GameScore Impact Card for Dallas Stars on 2022-05-05:#GoStars pic.twitter.com/6hzNr0AOTU— HockeyStatCards (@hockeystatcards) May 6, 2022
Not everything was sunshine and roses, obviously. The turtling effort in the third period was as disheartening as always, and the Stars continue to look extremely ineffectual on the power play. Heck, Oettinger even iced the puck with the man advantage once, which might have been the sole blemish on his otherwise perfect game.
Then there’s the elephant in the room, which is that Dallas is still a team that has trouble scoring and the Flames are traditionally not. Markstrom has been great, but he also hasn’t been tested too hard. In constrast, Oettinger has had to make highlight saves left and right to keep Dallas in the mix, which is (probably) not sustainable.
But unlike Game 1, I’d say the positives outweigh the negatives here, and not just because Dallas won. The Stars’ have a gameplan that allows them to go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the league, even it’s a bit too reliant on elite goaltending. And now with the next two games at home, Rick Bowness can get the matchups he wants more consistently, not to mention whatever energy the players can feed off the home crowd.
It’s still an upwards climb for Dallas to pull off a first round upset. But it looks just a bit more obtainable now than it did on Tuesday.