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Afterwords: Not This Time

May 9, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger (29) and left wing Mason Marchment (27) celebrate the Stars victory over the Colorado Avalanche in game two of the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After the first two periods, I already had a much different body written out in my head for this Afterwords.

The theme was going to revolve around how the Dallas Stars got the 4-0 win fans had expected after the first period of Game 1 (or at least a similar dominating score). How the national narrative of Game 1 — that the Colorado Avalanche are relentless, and can’t be stopped even when trailing deep — was going to be erased. The new narrative would be how the Stars had Colorado’s number, that they were able to consistently outgun them by a healthy margin save for an unfortunate, power play fueled collapse in Game 1.

But then the Stars gave up three unanswered goals to the Avalanche. Again. And we’re right back to a narrative that is now looking more like a truth: that no lead is safe against this Colorado team, and that you have to sweat it out to the final whistle before you can be certain of a win.

Now, this blown multi-goal lead was much different than the one from Game 1. Whereas the Stars completely collapsed after the first period on Tuesday, that wasn’t all the case in the third tonight. Rather, the Avalanche were simply able to finally find an answer for Jake Oettinger (more on him later), plus an unfortunate (for Dallas) deflection off of Valeri Nichushkin to give Colorado goal number three.

Of course, the biggest difference between the two games was how that third goal only put Colorado within striking distance, rather than tying up the game altogether. One of the lingering questions from Game 1 was what the result might have been had Josh Manson not stopped Jamie Benn’s potential goal at the end of the first period, which would have put Dallas up 4-0. This time around, Dallas did secure the 4-0 lead, and that allowed them to win in regulation rather than get sent to overtime again.

Still, it’s a rather bitter finish to what was otherwise a sweet, sweet game for Dallas. After the second period, it looked like they were going to head to Colorado with all of the momentum. Instead, the Avalanche have something to build off of, and can feel pretty good about having home-ice advantage in a now best-of-5 series.

(That being said, Jared Bedard still needs to solve the whole “going down by a lot” problem. Because as much as “just go up 4-0, not 3-0” is an unsustainable strategy for Dallas, “just go down 3-0, not 4-0” is even less so for Colorado).

• Before they gave up three straight, the title of this Afterwords was going to be “That’s More Like It.” It was meant to encapsulate the main takeaway of the game (that Dallas was able to successfully blow out Colorado this time around) as well as the star of the show: Roope Hintz.

It’s been no secret that the Stars’ top line center has been quiet all postseason long. Dallas was able to survive the Vegas Golden Knights without his contributions, but it would be hard to do so again against Colorado for the second series in a row. On the flip side, as I told my dad on the way to Game 1, if Dallas could keep playing like they had against Vegas and get Hintz back to his normal, elite level, then no one would be able to stop them.

We saw that come to fruition in Game 2, as Hintz finally had his breakout, monster performance. It started with his hard, crisp pass to Miro Heiskanen on the Stars’ second power play, which gave Miro Heiskanen a wide open net to bury the puck and give Dallas the first goal. Then later, after receiving an absolute beauty of a pass from Nils Lundkvist(!) off the rush, Hintz corralled the puck (knowing that half second wasn’t going to help Alexandar Georgiev) before sending it into another wide open net.

That seemed to get Hintz’s groove back, as he stayed on fire the rest of the night, earning two more assists for his efforts (the second of which being a great chip back to Esa Lindell, who was able to rocket the empty netter from the other side of the rink). I mean, just look at his GameScore for the night:

Will he be able to keep it up going forward? Considering Pete DeBoer basically said “Hintz is playing hurt” without actually saying “Hintz is playing hurt” between games, probably not. But Dallas doesn’t need to have 4-point nights from Hintz — they just need him, at the minimum, to have a consistent, noticeable, positive impact on the ice when he’s out there. And this was a step in the right direction.

• The hidden story of Game 1 was the special teams — Dallas went 1-for-4 on the power play, whereas Colorado’s comeback was largely fueled by going 2-for-2. This time around, special teams took a much more notable role, but in the other direction — the Stars went 2-for-5, whereas the Avalanche not only went 0-for-3, but 1) gave up a shorthanded goal to Tyler Seguin, which ended up being the game-winner, and 2) specifically failed to score on the third power play when they had the goalie pulled for a 6-on-4.

The craziest thing about all of those penalties? They were almost exclusively self-inflicted from the Avalanche side: they were called twice for too many men, and twice for delay of game. Heck, they actually took a sixth penalty, but it resulted in a 4-on-4 as Mason Marchment got called for embellishment*. So in the end, Dallas only drew a single penalty to go on the power play (which they subsequently scored on, thank you very much).

*I think embellishment was absolutely the right call here, but I still maintain my stance that it should be an “either/or” scenario. Which means yes, I do think Colorado should have gone on the power play there rather than it be a 4-on-4.

• Perhaps the biggest call of the night, however, was the one that was taken back: when the Stars were up 2-0 in the second, Jamie Benn laid out a monster hit on Devon Toews that left him lying down on the ice:

After deliberation, it was called a major so that it could then be reviewed. In real-time, it looked like a hit to the head. On first replay, it looked like a hit to the head. But when the second replay was shown, it was clear that it was shoulder-to-shoulder contact, and that Toews’ head went back due to whiplash (before unfortunately coming into contact with Wyatt Johnston right behind him). Therefore, it was a clean hit*, thus obviously not a penalty.

…I mean, it was obvious, right? I ask because the broadcast didn’t seem to think so, being relatively mum while the replays were showing. At first, I thought it was because they didn’t want to accidentally disagree with the eventual call on the ice. But then right before the announcement of the call, a comment was made that it looked like a hit to the head. And then afterwards, when more replays were shown, the broadcast was still quiet about it, not even giving the standard “that was the right call” affirmation.

Maybe it was clear to me because I’m biased towards Dallas, only it seemed to be just as clear to the referees, who didn’t take too long reviewing the call. And they certainly weren’t about to be biased towards the home team already up 2-0 with a penalty advantage who had just scored.

*I want to be clear in that it was a clear hit by nature of the rules, namely that the head wasn’t the main point of contact and Toews was actively playing the puck, meaning it wasn’t a late hit. There’s been a lot of online discourse about whether that should be considered a “clean hit,” as the angle and force still puts Toews’s head at risk, but that’s not a discussion I’m prepared to get into at *checks clock* 1:47 in the morning when I’ve already written *checks word count* 1.3k words in (with more to come).

Also, I am relieved that Toews was able to return to the ice. Yes, him being out for the game or longer would have benefited Dallas from an on-ice perspective, but I’m never one to hope or cheer for injuries, especially when it comes to blows to the head. Glad that he seems to be alright.

• Alexandar Georgiev played like a goalie who didn’t deserve to have four goals scored on him. He was crisp throughout the night, and a big reason why the Avalanche didn’t get blown out even more so to start the game.

That being said, he wasn’t the best goaltender on the ice. That honor belonged to Jake Oettinger, who made several Herculean saves throughout the game, particularly towards the end of the first, to keep Colorado off the board. He was a stone wall, proving that his series against Vegas was the real deal and that his regular season was a fluke, not the other way around.

Of course, things started to fall apart in the third period. The first goal against was a surrendered rebound, although based on his stance, he seemed prepared to give it up in favor of guaranteeing the stop — it’s just unfortunate that said rebound went straight to Joel “F***king” Kiviranta for an easy tap-in. And the third goal was a deflection off of Valeri Nichushkin’s body (not even his stick) that you really can’t fault him for.

The second goal… well, yeah, you don’t really want to surrender that one to Brandon Duhaime. But after the kinds of saves Oettinger had been making all game, you can spot him one rough goal. Heck, had it not been for the third goal against (which, again, was not even remotely Oettinger’s fault), I’m not even sure we’re having this discussion right now.

• Finally, I think I know the real reason for Colorado’s third period rally: the Dallas Stars are simply incapable of finishing a playoff game that isn’t decided by one goal, minus empty-netters. Dallas or Colorado could have a 6-0 lead on Saturday with less than five minutes remaining, and I have full confidence that the final score would be 6-5 or something. It’s just that kind of playoff run thus far.

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