Afterwords: The End and the Beginning

Jake Oettinger’s legendary performance was not enough to push Dallas past Calgary, and now the offseason looms...

As I mentioned in my piece for Game 5, I wasn’t able to watch Game 6 until Sunday. In fact, I ended up watching it right before Game 7, using it as a “warm up” of sorts, a way to hype me up heading into the game.

I knew the final score — my efforts to remain unspoiled until I could watch it were in vein — but I didn’t know how it happened. And so I watched with marvel at the Dallas Stars seemingly take what I wrote about Game 5 to heart (you’re welcome), re-establishing their style of game against the Calgary Flames. They outshot Calgary for the first time all series, and when they entered the third period with a lead, they didn’t turtle!

It’s performances like these that show that, when they’re on, Dallas can compete with the best of the best. They did it multiple times against Calgary over the past couple weeks, and they’ve put similar efforts against Tampa Bay, Colorado, and the like in the regular season.

So when I began Game 7 on delay and watched Jamie Benn score less than a minute in, I could feel it — this was the Stars’ game to lose. Much like how the Dallas Mavericks had their way with the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in their Game 7, the Stars were going to take this game by the horns.

But we didn’t get another Game 6. Or another Game 2 or 3. Heck, we didn’t even get a Game 1 or 5. We got a Game 4.

Dallas just collapsed offensively, showing no signs of life past their own blueline. Full credit to the Flames, who enforced their will upon the Stars and played the exact kind of game they love to, the style that has served them well this series. Calgary outshot Dallas 17-8 in the first period, with most of those Stars shots coming in the latter minutes — in the second, it was 26-4, for a total of 43-12 over 40 minutes.

The only reason the Stars weren’t being blown out of the Saddledome was the same reason they were still alive in Game 7 in the first place: Jake Oettinger. No goaltender has been better this postseason, and the sophomore continued to bail Dallas out shot after shot after shot after shot.

The Stars’ gameplan this series relied a bit too much on elite goaltending, and they were getting it. Despite being massively outshot, the Flames never took a lead in regulation. Tyler Toffoli broke through the brick wall that was Oettinger early in the second, but Vladislav Namestnikov immediately answered back. A Stars power-play turned penalty kill gave Matthew Tkachuk his first of the series, but Oettinger stood strong after that.

It was the third period that the Stars finally got their act together, as a sort of reverse Game 5. The tempo slowed down, just like how Dallas likes it, and the shot rates remained relatively even. Throughout the entire twenty minutes, it felt like sudden-death — all it was going to take was one perfect shot, or one bad bounce, and we’d have our winner.

Instead, we got overtime, and the offense skewed towards Calgary once more. Over the next fifteen minutes, Dallas managed only 5 shots whereas Calgary had 14, and only a couple of those came from the rare overtime power play they received. Oettinger stood tall as ever, making highlight reel saves left and right. But in the end, it wasn’t enough, as the 15th shot made it’s way past him, courtesy of Johnny Gaudreau.

Oettinger’s 64 save effort in the loss was reminiscent of Ben Bishop’s heroic Game 7 double overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues in 2019. The series at large felt a lot like Marty Turco’s performance against the Vancouver Canucks in 2007, the only time a goaltender has recorded three shutouts in a series and lost Game 7. Dallas is used to wasting elite playoff goaltending performances, though that didn’t make this one sting any less.

It didn’t help matters that Dallas was pretty banged up heading into the game — Luke Glendening was out, and, far more importantly, Roope Hintz was a late scratch due to injury. Things didn’t get much better as the game progressed, as Radek Faksa exited the game during the second period.

But even given the circumstances, it was a rather lackluster effort from the Stars’ skaters. Each player showed a spark here and there, but from my viewpoint, there were only two skaters who put in a consistently good effort throughout the full 75 minutes.

The first was Miro Heiskanen, which shouldn’t be a surprise by this standpoint. He was a constant thorn in the Flames’ side, and his multiple shots off the post are probably going to haunt his dreams for the next few weeks.

The second was Ty Dellandrea, who’s technically not a rookie but might as well be. Last night was his first NHL playoff game, slotting in for Glendening, and the expectation was that he was going to get sheltered hard by the Stars’ coaching staff. Instead, he finished 7th in ice time among Dallas forwards with 19:15, a reward for his solid defense, transition game, and the occasional pressure on Jacob Markstrom.

It was a nice preview of what might be in store for the Dallas Stars’ next season. It’s also a painful reminder that this was a player already in the system, someone who played only a single game this regular season after appearing in 26 the year before. Someone who was put back into the AHL as the Stars elected to instead shore up their Bottom 6 with hardy veterans.

Granted, some of those veterans have done well — Michael Raffl had a great series against Calgary, and Namestikov, who was acquired at the trade deadline, did admirably as well, beyond his goal last night. But those players also have a great deal of playoff experience, and the only way for young skaters like Dellandrea to get that same experience is to, well, play.

And that leads us to “what if’s” regarding Thomas Harley, who — like Jason Robertson in the 2020 bubble — never saw the ice this postseason. And that in turn raises questions about the likes of Wyatt Johnston, Logan Stankoven, and Mavrik Borque, who lit up the three junior leagues this year. Are they going to be the influx of offensive firepower this roster so desperately needs? Or will they continue to be “over-ripened” in the AHL and juniors, like the Stars opted for Robertson, Hintz, and Oettinger before them?

Those are the questions that the Stars have to address this offseason, along with other pertinent matters like John Klingberg’s pending UFA status, plus new deals for pending RFAs such as Robetson, Oettinger, and Denis Gurianov. Robertson in particular was already in line for a pretty hefty contract, and with this playoff performance, Oettinger might have joined him.

But perhaps no question looms larger than the status of head coach Rick Bowness, whose contract is about to expire. And if the Stars decide to move on from the veteran coach, does general manager Jim Nill get the pink slip as well? Even if the entire front office gets an upheaval, would it actually bring about a change in philosophy, or will ownership continue to emphasize an extreme defensive mindset at the expense of scoring?

These are all topics we here at Defending Big D will be digging in the coming weeks. For now, thanks for sticking with us throughout this rollercoaster of a season. It might not have ended how we wanted, but suffice to say it was, for better or worse, a memorable one.