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Afterwords: Third Verse, Same as the First

Somehow, I just knew the game was going to overtime.

Not because each of the Dallas Stars’ Game 1s this postseason had gone to overtime. Not because two of the three matchups between Dallas and the Vegas Golden Knights this season went to overtime. Not because, after Stars and Knights fans alike were cheering at the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers going to almost 5OT, it would have been somewhat karmic.

No, it just felt like it was going to be one of those nights.

Let me explain. First of all, I think the Dallas Stars could go 96-0 in a season if they just learned how to start each game consistently. Or, rather, consistently start them well – last night began like many Stars games have over the Victory Green era, with Dallas looking sluggish to start and getting peppered by the opposition.

But thankfully for the Stars, this wouldn’t be a repeat of the Seattle Kraken series – because lo and behold, playoff Jake Oettinger was back, baby. Even as the Golden Knights outshot-attempted Dallas 16-1, with 11 of those on net, Oettinger didn’t let in a single leaky goal. Whereas many goalies, including Round Two Oettinger, might have cracked under the pressure, the Stars’ netminder kept his cool and just kept shrugging pucks away.

That led Dallas to surge in the shot attempts, aided in part by their first power play of the evening (we dare not speak of the dreadful horror that was their second power play). And then, with just over a minute left, the mad man finally did it: Jason Robertson scored a 5-on-5 goal.

No one threw the monkey off of Robertson’s back, but his expression after the goal told it all: he was beyond relieved. Sometimes, all you need is that one goal to get clicking again, and boy did it come at an opportune time – instead of getting clobbered in the first, Dallas would be heading into the locker room leading 1-0.

Robertson had possibly burst the dam open. Oettinger was making stops left and right. The two main concerns for Dallas heading into the Western Conference Final seem to have been alleviated.

…And yet, I could not help but feel that the game was going to overtime. The fact of the matter was, Vegas was still dominating Dallas in scoring chances. The Stars’ defense was getting shelled, including superstar defender Miro Heiskanen. I mean, just look at this:

I’m no hockey expert, but something tells me that things aren’t going well for you when the three defensemen who aren’t getting dominated in the defensive zone happen to be the three guys playing 15 minutes or less across the entire game. And it’s especially bad news when the only one having positive offensive impact – or even just a neutral one – is usually your seventh defenseman.

So as the game continued on, it really felt like this was a case where Vegas would eventually get a singular shot past Oettinger – probably an unlucky bounce – Dallas would fail to score again, and we’d end up going to overtime 1-1.

For awhile there, it looked like we were following that script to a tee – almost halfway through, an unlucky bounce off the end boards brought the puck straight to William Karlsson’s stick, who put it into the wide open net in front of him. You can’t really blame Oettinger, since the rebound happened too quick for him to slide over. I’m not even sure you can blame Ryan Suter, as he was following Karlsson around the net and staying between him and the puck until suddenly the puck was behind them.

It was just, all around, an unlucky break for Dallas. Which, again, is exactly what I expected to happen. Sure enough, Dallas nor Vegas answered back, and the game was tied after 40 minutes. Everythinig was going as forseen.

And then the third period happened.

Karlsson scored again a little minute in, and this time, it was all on Oettinger. Was their another unfortunate puck bounce off, this one coming off of Roope Hintz’s stick and right onto Karlsson’s? Sure. But even though Karlsson was wide open, with his choice of the net to shoot at, those are still the saves you expect Jake Oettinger to make. To rob the opposition of their potential go-ahead goal.

First Round Oettinger would have probably made that save. First-two-periods Oettinger probably would have as well. But third-period Oettinger didn’t, and Vegas got the lead.

Hintz made up for it a couple minutes later, when the top line showed their top-tier chemistry in a beautiful 1-2-3 sequence that led to an eight-puck, corner pocket. Except then, five minutes later, Miro Heiskanen got beat by Keegan Kolesar and then (slightly) helped him into the Stars’ net, with some further “help” from Ryan Suter. Oettinger was pushed out of position, and Teddy Blueger knocked it home.

Perhaps, by this point, you might have thought I’d give up on my prediction. Vegas was winning this one, thanks to some failed defense, bad breaks, and overall sloppy play. But even as time dwindled down, I still had a gut feeling that Dallas would pull it off.

And so they did – shortly after pulling Oettinger for the extra skater with just over two minutes to go, Jamie Benn managed to sneak the puck under Adin Hill’s pad and into the net. The buzzer eventually sounded, and we indeed were going to overtime… just at a score of 3-3 instead of 1-1 like I expected.

Now, up to that point, I had been well aware that overtime would mean Dallas’ third for a Game 1 this postseason, which, according to the fine folks over at ESPN, is only the second time to happen in NHL history, alongside the 2003 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. But there was another wrinkle with that pattern, one that didn’t truly dawn on me until regulation expired: those Game 1 overtimes were also losses for the Stars.

And yet, I foolishly allowed myself to hope. No, not just hope – that implies I was crossing my fingers while actually thinking the Stars were going to lose. No, I thought Dallas would complete the comeback, which, again, according to our friends at ESPN, would have been a first for Dallas this postseason.

And then, 1:35 into the extra inning, Brett Howden scored the game-winner. He got the puck behind the net as Jake Oettinger proceeded to do one of the strangest decisions I’ve ever seen a goalie make. I mean, I’m not a goalie, nor have I ever played goalie, but something tells me doing a 360 degree turn to get back into net while the puck is behind you, instead of, you know, just backing up, is not the right move there.

After a strong first two periods, Oettinger failed to make a big save early in the third, got pushed out of position for another goal, and then made a critical error early in overtime. Even with the most Victory Green-tinted shades on the market, you can, at best, blame him only for the overtime goal. And when it was that bad… in overtime… sheesh.

It’s not as if the loss lies solely on Oettinger – take another look at that chart from earlier on, and see how the entire team save for the top line and Joel Hanley failed to have a net-positive offensive impact. How the second line and the team’s top three defensemen in ice time got caved defensively.

Now, the silver lining is that despite playing so bad, the Stars still only lost in overtime. Robertson finally scored a 5-on-5 goal, Hintz had a three-point night, and Dallas managed to persevere and tie it up late. Assuming Oettinger bounces back – and it feels like we’ve been saying that way too much over the past 8 games – along with Heiskanen and the rest of the blueline, Dallas is in good shape to continue the pattern and win Game 2.

But if they don’t… well, let’s just hope home ice would help Dallas erase a 2-0 series deficit.