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Afterwords: A Third Period for the Ages

May 11, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Dallas Stars center Logan Stankoven (11) celebrates his goal with defenseman Chris Tanev (3) in the first period against the Colorado Avalanche in game three of the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, my original point of focus for this Afterwords looked much different after the first two periods.

Assuming the status quo had remained the same, the plan was to heap mountains of praise onto Jake Oettinger. He has been sharp all postseason long, yet he had not yet had one of those games. You know, the kind where you have absolute no business winning, giving up scoring chance after scoring chance, but your goalie is there to single-handedly drag you to victory.

That’s what Game 3 felt like after 40 minutes, with the Dallas Stars holding onto one-goal lead despite being badly outshot by the Colorado Avalanche. Granted, Dallas had a high number of scoring chances (12) compared to their shots on net (13), as Henrik Lundqvist and the TNT crew pointed out during the second intermission, but there was no mistake that Oettinger was the sole driving factor in Colorado getting their own multi-goal lead at home.

Add in how Colorado has done very well in the third this series, potentially due to fatigue issues coming from the Stars (their blueline in particular), and there was no reason to believe, in my mind, that we were in tune for anything different in the third period than we were all game long.

Boy was I wrong.

What we instead witnessed I can only describe as a master class demonstration on how to completely neuter and shut down the Avalanche’s offense. Dallas constantly clogged up the neutral zone, preventing Colorado from transitioning past the blue line. They were aggressive when Colorado had the puck in their own zone, refusing to let them get comfortable and execute their breakouts well. And when the Avalanche did get to set up in the offensive zone, Dallas clogged up the passing lanes, forced turnovers, blocked shots, and yes, had Oettinger make saves on the shots that did make their way towards him.

Consider this: across the first two periods, Colorado had 22 shots on goal to the Stars’ 13. In the third period, Dallas outshot Colorado 10-7. This wasn’t some turtle-hockey to try and preserve a one-goal lead— Dallas absolutely suffocated the life out of Colorado’s offense, and then would turn around and put pressure on Alexandar Georgiev at the other end of the ice. And then when the Avalanche pull the goalie to try and get the equalizer, one game after scoring with the extra attacker? Boom, Tyler Seguin almost immediately score on the empty net, with Logan Stankoven getting another one later for good measure.

Something the TNT broadcast touched upon multiple times during the second period and intermission was how the Colorado’s top line looked frustrated, showcasing one clip for each player in which they seemed to showcase their anger. This was, presumably, due to their repeatedly thwarted scoring attempts by Jake Oettinger throughout the game, on top of not scoring against him for all of Game 2. It’s probably a good thing for the Avalanche that the trio finally scored in the second, because otherwise they might have imploded out of sheer frustration after getting stifled in the third.

And that’s exactly what you love to see if you’re Dallas. Because there has been no question regarding which team has the edge when it comes to depth and goaltending. The Avalanche’s X-factor is their elite talent, yet Dallas has held Nathan MacKinnon to a single assist and Cale Makar to zero points the past two games. That’s a recipe for a successful series win.

• My brother and I were complaining about Evgenii Dadonov early on in the game. Namely, we felt that he wasn’t a good fit on the Stars’ fourth line, and that if he wasn’t going to be elevated up the lineup, perhaps he might be better off left out entirely.

Well I think he might have heard us, because he proceeded to showcase exactly why he is in the lineup: his fantastic scoring prowess. He had an absolute beautiful backhanded pass to Sam Steel off the rush to give his linemate a great scoring opportunity in the second, and later would deliver a perfect pass to Tyler Seguin that had no business making it across cleanly, which gave Seguin and easy goal to give Dallas their lead back.

Granted, sandwhiched between the two plays was Colorado’s sole goal, which was only possible due to Dadonov somehow getting out-bullied by Mikko Rantanen in front of the net. But I think back to my high school volleyball coach, who told me that so long as I could guarantee him an ace when I served, he didn’t care if I hit the next one straight into the net or soaring out of bounds.

In other words, mistakes are okay if you can make up for it. Dadonov directly led to a goal against, but he answered by directly leading to the game-winner — I’ll take that trade every time.

• The winner of the game was once again the winner of the special teams battle. While Dallas failed to score on their sole power play opportunity, they were perfect on the penalty kill, all three of which took place in the first period. Had Colorado scored on just one of them, we might have seen a very different hockey game.

• I can’t think of anything more to say about Chris Tanev that hasn’t been said already, but it would be remiss of me to not give him a shout-out after another fantastic performance. Also stick taps to Logan Stankoven, who finally broke his 21(!) game scoring slump, then added an empty netter for good measure. Now that the monkey is firmly off of his back, I can’t help but wonder if we’re going to see some more goals from him in the near future.

• The most bonkers stat of the series thus far? Colorado hasn’t led a single time, their sole win courtesy of an overtime game-winner. Had it not been for that goal (or the collapse by Dallas that came before it), the Stars might be heading into Game 4 with a 3-0 series lead, and I’m not sure anyone watching the series would have been surprised.

That might get people thinking of “what could have been,” but as the Carolina Hurricanes just showed us against the New York Rangers, it’s hard to get swept when you’re a Stanley Cup Contender. Perhaps the Stars will still end up leading the series 3-1, and it’s just that their sole loss came in Game 1 instead of Game 4.

• Finally, I thought the commercial on Jason Robertson’s mom was very sweet. Happy Mother’s day to all of the mother figures in our lives, with a special shout-out to my loving wife, who is celebrating her first. May she continue to show unmatched patience when it comes to tolerating my insatiable love for hockey, no matter how much of my time it sucks up (especially in the playoffs).

Talking Points