Afterwords: Stress Level Midnight
Last night's win was nerve-wracking throughout, but how much of that concern was warranted?
Let's start by stating the obvious: the Dallas Stars deserved to win last night's game.
They took an early lead thanks to Wyatt Johnston and Roope Hintz. Jake Oettinger was fantastic, posting a .935 SV% that would have been even better had it not been for Joel Hanley's skate. Jason Robertson (!!!) finally showed up at even strength, recording a primary and two secondary assists. And yes, Miro Heiskanen was strong analytically tonight.
But boy did they make me sweat.
At the end of the day, it was a fun game that I feel good about. But I'm very glad I don't have high blood pressure, because I'm not sure I could have handled this game if so. Even as Dallas took an early 2-0 lead, the Kraken were already outshooting them 8-3, finishing the period leading 14-5. Yeah, that's right – only two shots on net by Dallas for 14 and a half minutes of play.
It looked like Dallas killed that momentum early in the second, only for Adam Larsson to immediately answer back. Five and a half minutes of game-time later, Jared McCann scored his first of the postseason thanks to, as mentioned earlier, an unlucky bounce off Hanley's skate. What was once a 3-0 game was now 3-2, with the Seattle Kraken still dominating in shots on net.
Now, Dallas responded well to the second goal, and actually out-chanced the Kraken by the end of the period. Except they followed it up with a lifeless power-play performance to start the third, followed by long stretches of time in the defensive zone where you couldn't help but feel the worst was about to happen.
And then, a little over halfway into the third, Roope Hintz put all of those fears to rest as he scored a beautiful goal. Sure, the referees tried to gaslight the entire AAC for the next 10-15 seconds, but thankfully the good folks in Toronto spared fans any misery. Maybe they just wanted to make up for Game 2 and give us our beloved Horn of Doom.
And so the Stars won despite being outshot 31-21, surviving thanks to the heroics of Jake Oettinger in net while feasting on Philipp Grubauer, who has looked more and more like his regular-season self this series as opposed to his Round 1 self against Colorado. It was a game, as I originally considered titling this piece, that the Stars managed to win in spite of themselves.
...or was it? We've been talking non-stop about shots on net, but what about the actual shot quality? Turns out that the Kraken, while certainly applying pressure on Oettinger, weren't getting many high-danger looks at the American goaltender:
Our superstar managing editor, Taylor Baird, asked Pete DeBoer about the Kraken's quality of shots vs. their quantity in the post-game. You can read his full response here, but in short he came to the same conclusion:
"Well, it's a great question. They were obviously slinging a lot of pucks towards the net, and when you have that mindset, you're going to give up numbers. I thought quality-wise, we did a pretty good job of keeping them to the outside. Probably the best analogy is we bent but didn't break."
It backs up my feelings from after the first period, in which, numbers-wise, Seattle should have been in clear control, yet it still felt like Dallas was the team dictating play. But low-danger shots are still shots, and can potentially lead to goals even without soft goaltending. Again, take that second goal from Seattle, which deflected off of Joel Hanley's skate and in – sometimes, all you need is a lucky bounce.
And let's face it: when watching so many shots against your own team, it can be hard to discern quantity over quality on the spot. So combine that with that disastrous start to the third, and you certainly couldn't blame fans for being doom and gloom.
Now, to be clear, none of this is meant to be a slight to Oettinger– he did what he had to do, which was to block shots regardless of where or who they came from. And he was fantastic at it; any worse, and this game might have gone in the other direction.
Instead, Dallas has taken their first lead of the series at 3-2. I'm not saying that means a repeat of Round 1 in which Dallas wins in six...but you have to feel a lot better about it after tonight's win, even if it stressed you throughout.
• Jason Robertson is back, folks. Although he didn't score a goal himself, he had a three-assist night, all at even strength. The top line was dominant in the same way they have been all season, and I feel that's ultimately what proved to be the difference maker in what was a close game.
If you didn't give it a listen already (and you should), my colleague David Castillo was on the PDOcast on Wednesday to talk about the Stars. One of the topics was, naturally, Robertson's struggles in the playoffs, and David made the excellent point that Seattle (and Minnesota to an extent) had scouted Robertson well and was taking away his usual looks and moves. If he learned to adjust and find chances elsewhere, he'd be back to normal.
Sure enough, in the lead up to that second goal:
• That being said, Roope Hintz was the best player on the ice last night, as he has been for most of the playoffs. Like I said, that second goal was a thing of beauty which put the game to rest.
Hintz is now tied with Leon Draisaitl for playoff scoring with 18 points in just 11 games, and that's not taking into account his strong defensive work as well. If Dallas goes the distance and wins the Stanley Cup, it's hard to imagine someone besides Hintz lifting the Conn Smythe at the rate he's going.
• The top line may have scored three of the five Stars goals, but give full credit to the other two players to put the puck into the net. Wyatt Johnston continues to look fantastic this (post)season, and his early goal gave Dallas a nice boost of energy to kick the game off with. His line with Jamie Benn and Evgenii Dadonov was buzzing throughout the first, and I'm surprised they didn't tack on another one.
And then there's Radek Faksa. When it comes to empty-net goals, our default response is to just wave it off as a freebie. Not this time – Seattle had recently pulled Philipp Grubauer with a little less than four minutes to go, and, despite briefly entering it, had yet to setup in the offensive zone with the man advantage. Faksa expertly broke up a pass out Seattle's defensive zone, took a hold of the puck, and shot it straight into the net.
If Faksa doesn't do that, maybe Seattle is able to score and bring them within striking distance with a couple minutes left. Or maybe the Stars would have still gotten a traditional empty-netter, shot from afar or walked in like Max Domi's from Game 5. We'll never know thanks to Faksa, and that's a good thing.
• As already mentioned, Miro Heiskanen bounced back from a subpar performance (according to analytics) in Game 4:
As you can see, Heiskanen was number four on the team behind the team's top line, and right ahead of defensive partner Ryan Suter and... wait a second, that can't be right... Jani Hakanpää?!?!?
Hakanpää had been brutal with the turnovers all game, with Stars fans just begging for Dallas to keep the puck away from him. It seemed clear that Hakanpää, as he has been all series, was outmatched by Seattle, and that perhaps he needed to come back out of the lineup in favor of Collin Miller for Game 6.
And yet once again, the #fancystats don't match up what so many of us saw on the ice, only this time things were flipped. Rather than kickstart another "eye test vs. analytics" debate (because I don't want David to keep banging his head against a wall), I'll just direct you to this piece by Sean Shapiro, which I think expertly paints the picture of how the two mesh together. Highly encourage giving it your time if you haven't already.
• Finally, we here at the Committee for Giving Thomas Harley More Ice Time would like to inform you that Harley saw his minutes jump up to 16:22 this game, including 56 seconds on the Stars' second power play of the evening. Progress.