Afterwords: Gone in 52 Seconds

You can't minimize last night's game down to a minute of play, but it sure left its impact.

Afterwords: Gone in 52 Seconds
Credit: Tim Heitman / Dallas Stars

Last night, the story wrote itself.

Joe Pavelski had missed almost the entire first round series after getting taken out by Matt Dumba in Game 1 and suffering a concussion. Now, in Game 1 of the second round against the Seattle Kraken, Pavelski was making his return to the lineup, although not in his usual spot on the top line.

At first glance, you might have thought head coach Pete DeBoer simply wanted to ease Pavelski back into things. In reality, he was trying to spread out the Dallas Stars' top heavy scoring, hoping Pavelski would spark the team's second line alongside Max Domi and Mason Marchment.

Less than two and a half minutes in, Pavelski delivered, with a sniper past Philipp Grubauer. Later, when Jaden Schwartz tied things up, Pavelski reclaimed the lead for Dallas in less than a minute doing what he does best: tipping the puck in front of the net.

It was a storybook start to the first period, but Pavelski wasn't done writing yet. In the third period, he completed the hat-trick by cleaning up on a Jamie Benn rebound. And then, just when Joe Thornton thought it couldn't get any better, the former San Jose Sharks captain scored his fourth of the night with another tip.

First game back, and four goals. Pavelski became the oldest player in NHL history to score four in a playoff game, being 3 years and 50 days older than Maurice "Rocket" Richard (yes, that "Rocket" Richard) when he accomplished the feat back in 1957. And it's not as if he was a one-man show either – true to DeBoer's expectations, the whole second line was elevated, with Max Domi jumpstarting three of the goals off the transition and Marchment notching a primary assist.

It was an amazing performance by Pavelski and company. Proof that, even at his age, Captain America is still one of the best players in the world. What could possibly ruin the night?

Oh, right.

In a way, what made Pavelski's performance all the more memorable was that it helped Dallas storm back to tie the game late and force overtime. But that would have never been necessary had, shortly after Pavelski's second goal, the Stars not given up three goals in 52 seconds.

A buzzing crowd became silent as the Stars finished the first period down 4-2 instead of up 2-1, or at least tied 2-2. You could say it was an absolute disastrous first period, but in reality it was limited to that single minute, a minute which changed the outcome of the game.

We have no way of knowing what might have been had the Kraken not scored, or only did so once or twice. Perhaps Pavelski would have still scored another two, and the Stars would have won in regulation instead of losing in overtime. Or maybe the Stars would have lacked that desperation in the third period, and the Kraken would have been able to secure the victory anyways.

Because, make no mistake: Seattle earned this win. They were relentless on the forecheck, playing a fast yet still physical style quite unlike what Dallas saw in Round 1 against the Minnesota Wild. Whereas the Stars earned all of their goals from Pavelski, the Kraken continued their trend of depth scoring, each goal caming from a different player.

In contrast, the Stars lower lineup, who had a very solid series against Minnesota, got run over by the Kraken, especially the defensive pair of Esa Lindell and Jani Hakanpää:

And while the second line (or, at least, Pavelski and Domi) buzzed, the team's top line was average at best. Zone entries were easier to come by, but Jason Robertson once again failed  to show up at 5-on-5. And when it came to the Stars' power play, a deadly force in Round 1, neither unit accomplished much of anything on their two opportunities.

So in many ways, it would be disingenuous to try and boil down this game to a mere 52 second sequence, to imply that were it not for a series of quick goals, the Stars would have a 1-0 series lead. Because it wasn't just those 52 seconds – Seattle looked good. Period.

...But man, you still can't help but wonder, huh? Because as good as Seattle looked, Dallas looked good too. They started off strong, survived a second period in which the life was still sucked out of the building, and then stormed back with a fantastic third period. Wyatt Johnston nearly won the game before time expired, and Roope Hintz and Ty Dellandrea almost did so in overtime.

As seen in the chart above, Miro Heiskanen also had a good game after logging a whopping 34:54 minutes of ice time. Thomas Harley was even better, believe it or not, at least in terms of offensive production. If I'm Pete DeBoer, I'm taking a long, hard look at how Lindell and Hakanpää played compared to Harley before deciding on how I want to divvy up ice-time for Game 2. Honestly, it's time for the coaching staff to stop coddling the young defenseman and give him the Top 4 role he has rightfully earned.

But I don't mean to dog on the coaching staff, especially after they made perhaps the most important decision of the night by keeping Jake Oettinger in net. The Kraken's second goal of the game came when Justin Schultz was given too much space, much like how Pavelski was for his first. The next two within that minute were tips, the first of which came off Lindell's stick. All three shots were tough to stop, and it's hard to argue that they were Oettinger's fault (especially the tips).

Even so, goaltending is a mental game, and most goalies might get rattled from letting in three quick ones as their team's lead utterly collapses into itself. Like how Dean Evason pulled Filip Gustavsson after two periods in Game 6, a casual observer might have expected DeBoer to pull Oettinger in favor of Wedgewood, at least to finish the third.

But Oettinger is not like most goalies – he is built differently. He never lingers on a missed save, and instead just moves onto the next play. After allowing four goals on the first eleven shots, it wasn't until shot No. 44, in overtime, that the Kraken were able to finally slip another past him.

So while it's hard to minimize Seattle's performance into a 52 second sequence, it's easy to reduce Oettinger's into a 71:25 stretch, one in which he allowed only two goals on 41 shots, good for a .954 SV%. If Oettinger keeps playing like that, Dallas should be fine, provided they get the goal scoring on the other end of the rink to back him up.

Still, at the end of the day, those three goals happened. Maybe Dallas wouldn't have won without them, but they sure played a big part in why they lost.