Afterwords: Quiet Dominance

It was the third "blowout" performance of this series, but the Stars' win last night felt different, somehow.

Afterwords: Quiet Dominance
Credit: Tim Heitman / Dallas Stars

I'm going to be upfront with y'all – this Afterwords might not make any sense.

In general, these pieces are meant to serve as my thoughts and feelings after these playoff games. Some times, I focus on one subject exclusively. And then there are times that it's supposed to be a few quick bullet points that end up being half the article. It really just depends on the game and my mindset at the time of writing.

All of which is to say that these pieces tend to be a stream of my consciousness, and while I try to translate that clearly into intelligible words and phrases, I might not always succeed. This will probably be one of those times, and I was half-tempted to just scrap most of this piece as a result. But I didn't, so, uhh, be warned.

Last time, we talked (briefly) about how Game 3 for the Seattle Kraken was a mirrored performance from Game 2 for the Dallas Stars. I then also pointed out – as did many others via Twitter, articles, and podcasts – that the series as a whole closely resembled the Stars' first round against the Minnesota Wild. Naturally, that left many to wonder if we would see the same type of Game 4 performance from the Stars again.

Well... yes and no. Sure, the Stars answered back and won the game to tie the series as 2-2. But in the Wild series, Game 4 was, in my opinion, still very much in favor of the Wild, and Dallas won thanks to a heroic effort by Jake Oettinger. Oettinger was good this game – more on that later – but so was Dallas, who this time around was clearly the better team throughout most of the game. Again, more on that later.

You might then turn around and say okay, but it was a repeat performance of Game 2: Dallas looked like the better team after the first, and then went on a scoring binge in the second to put the game (more or less) to rest. Alternatively, you could say it was instead a mirrored performance of Game 3: close score after the first period, eventual winner leads 5-1 after two, losing team benches their goalie for the third and scores again but still loses handedly. In which case, Game 4 wasn't exactly a repeat of Game 2, but rather of Game 3... even though Game 3 was, as already mentioned, itself a repeat of Game 2.

I promise this all makes sense in my head.

However, I'd like to reject the notion that this was a similar performance at all from the past two games. Yes, the Stars dominated for a majority of the game, much like how they did in Game 2 or Seattle did in Game 3. Yes, we had very similar scores and/or shot count discrepancies.  And yes, we could even drag Game 1 into the comparisons when it comes to a star player coming back from injury and making a big impact.

But it still doesn't feel the same. While it was a dominating performance from Dallas, it wasn't in an obvious way, at least not to me. Rather, it felt much more subtle, something you only picked up on as time went on instead of being in your face about it. A more *checks title* quiet dominance, if you would.

Let me (try to) explain what I mean. If you were to pick and choose a stretch of hockey from Game 3 to summarize the game, you would pick Seattle's four goals in just six minutes after Miro Heiskanen went down due to injury. If you did so for Dallas, you would pick a second period in which Dallas outshot Seattle 17-8 and outscored them 4-1. And if, again, we dragged Game 1 into things, you would pick Seattle's three goals in 52 seconds.

Okay, now try and do the same for Game 4.

I mean, maybe you pick the second period (or at least portions of it), in which Dallas outshot Seattle to 11-5? But how does that standout from the first period, which had the same shot counts, save for the fact that more pucks actually went into the net? It's not as if, unlike Game 2, that period was just an relentless, unstoppable show of force by Dallas. The Kraken throughout the game did a good job at blocking shots and minimizing the Stars' scoring chances – they just got burned a couple of times.

And you certainly can't look at the third period for a snapshot piece. Those twenty minutes looked completely unlike the first forty, in which you would have thought Seattle was the team with the 5-1 lead. Stars fans are used to those kinds of third period performances, but unlike under past coaches, this didn't feel like a turtling effort. Rather, Seattle just came out with a sense of desperation, and the Stars weren't able to keep them in check.

Thing is, it was too little too late for the Kraken, and the game still ended with a three goal difference. That's the sort of lead that Dallas built for themselves, in contrast to, say, Game 1 in which Seattle gave Dallas Joe Pavelski time to storm back. It was the Stars' game to lose, and even across that final period, they never really were in danger of doing so.

So as a whole, I don't feel like there was any definitive stretch or key moment that defined this, overall, strong performance by Dallas. And in some ways, that actually makes me feel better about the game than Game 2 – while I wouldn't say it's easy to do so, teams shake off bad performances all the time. Seattle and Dallas have each done it once this series, and so has pretty much every other team this postseason. You just burn the tape, regroup, and go back to business.

But when you just exert your dominance over the course of the game, to the point where even a strong third period response from the opposition only puts a slight dent in your lead? That is a lot harder for your opponent to bounce back from. That is the kind of game where, if you're Seattle, you have to wonder if "just regroup and get back to playing our game next time" is good enough, or if you have a real problem on your hands.

The good news for the Kraken is that they're a good team. They have the talent and the results to back them up. But there's a reason Dallas was the favorite to win the series, and it's not because of home-ice advantage. If Dallas can avoid the back-and-forth blowouts and deliver another strong performance in Game 5, things will be looking very good for the folks in Victory Green.

Some standalone thoughts to close us out, at least one of which will be quick, I promise.

• Miro Heiskanen was back this game after leaving Game 3 due to an "upper-body injury." He ended up logging thirty-one minutes and two seconds of ice time, which is downright mind-boggling for any player in regulation, let alone someone coming back from injury.

The overall consensus seems to be that it was an outstanding performance from Heisaknen – if you haven't already, you should check out Saad Yousuf's piece breaking down the film, highlighting Heiskanen's expert stick-work and disruptive abilities.

Interesting enough, the #fancystats paint a complete opposite picture. It's possible the third period dragged down Heiskanen's (and Ryan Suter's) numbers, but logic would dictate it would still do so for the rest of the team, which means comparatively, Heiskanen still had a weak performance.

My gut tells me this is one of those cases where analytics doesn't tell the whole story, and you really have to watch the game to paint a full picture. For instance, you could argue Heiskanen had to make up for his teammates' errors (especially in the third), in which he wasn't always successful. And then you get stuff like Heiskanen breaking his stick and having to borrow a forward's while Seattle had extended offensive zone time, eventually resulting in a goal. Hard to blame Heiskanen for that.

I'll leave it to you to form your own opinion and takeaways from Heiskanen's performance. I just love it when we can have these "eye test vs. analytics" debates for legitimate superstar players, as opposed to "that one depth defenseman that coaches think is a stud."

• Jake Oettinger bounced back from his bad performance in Game 2. You wouldn't know it from looking at the box score, but again, context is important. The first goal against was a beautiful re-direction from in front of the net. The second was the aforementioned broken stick play, as well as a delayed penalty. The third was, like the second, a result of Dallas giving Seattle too much time in the offensive zone and, by extension, too many opportunities.

And then, of course, there were the save themselves, and Oettinger made plenty great ones. Were it not for his solid play in net, we might have been looking at a Lightning-like collapse from Dallas in the third period, with Seattle possibly taking a 3-1 series lead. Instead, Oettinger improves to 21-1-3 after a loss, which, as someone who watched this team all season long, I still can't believe.

• In keeping with the 2017 Draft theme, Jason Robertson finally scored a point this series... on the power play. At this point, he is clearly snakebit – I can't believe he missed the net high on that turnover, and he couldn't even catch a lucky break on either of his attempts at the empty-netter.

Jack Han had a nice thread last night about the star forward's struggles, comparing him to Auston Matthews' struggles. He mentions how, unlike the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Stars have done a good job at making up for Robertson's lack of production, which is why they're 2-2 in the second round instead of facing a possible sweep.

So if I was Dave Hakstol, or any of the other remaining head coaches looking to advance, I would be praying every night that Robertson doesn't figure things out. Because if the Stars get 109 point Robertson back? With how the rest of this team is currently playing? Just try and take the Stanley Cup from them.

• Two things about that third goal from Max Domi. The first is that it was one of those plays where I felt like I could see the future. Here's the film:

Thomas Harley starts out with a great entrance into the offensive zone along the right boards, bringing four of Seattle's skaters onto that side of the ice and 2-3 in close proximity. He's able to get it back to Joel Hanley, who draws another Seattle skater before sending it over to Domi, who now has no one near him.

At this moment, I nearly leapt up to my feet – I just knew he was going to score. And sure enough, he had the time and space to almost casually skate closer to the net before wristing one past Philipp Grubauer. Having that room to work with is extremely deadly for NHL scorers – that's why power plays beget more goals – and Domi capitalized on it perfectly.

The second point about the goaltender interference. Thanks to DownGoesBrown, I instantly knew the call was going to stand, so I nearly leapt to my feet again – this time in anger – when Brian Boucher began to immediately insist the goal was coming back.

But then ESPN's rules analyst, Dave Jackson, chimed in, and the back and forth discussion that followed was fantastic. Between Boucher's questions and Jackson's explanations, they did a really good job at breaking down why you might think this was goalie interference and why it ultimately wasn't.

It's that sort of break-down analysis that we need to see more of from the national broadcasts, especially in the playoffs when more casual fans or first-time watchers begin to tune in. ESPN has its many, many flaws when it comes to its broadcasts, but they deserve full credit here.

• Finally, the promised short bullet point: Thomas Harley was just fantastic this game. We already highlighted his impact on the Domi goal, but his own goal earlier in the period was just as fantastic. He was coming in so fast off the rush that I didn't even realize who it was, because you never see defensemen in that position.

And yet he still only logged 13:41 of ice time. Give that man the Top 4 minutes he deserves.