Game 71 Afterwords: The Thin Blue Line
Spotting that team three goals was probably not Plan A.
Giveaways are bad.
Kris Russell was the kid who got his shoelace caught in the escalator tonight, and boy howdy, was it a rough ride down. He took just a beat too long to turn and chip the puck out of the zone, and Kris Versteeg was able to shut it down enough for Anze Kopitar to move the puck back around to the point. It wasn't the only time the Kings were holding the puck, drawing coverage, then tossing puck to the point with traffic, but this was the time it worked the best. A nice tip by Versteeg, and Kris Russell became the first and last person to touch the puck in this rather dreary sequence.
I began to suspect a curse after the second goal, because the rather similarly named Roussel got into the Ack Act. Mayhaps a sorceress somewhere coughed when hexing Russell the second time? Do hexes have autocorrect? Anyway, Russell's voodoo doll had its tire blown, and the sudden 2-on-1 was a formality for Toffoli.
The Kings really do play a straightforward game. They stay in position, and they use their size and passing along the boards to create lots of mid-grade chances, content that they'll end up on the positive side of the ledger when all is said and done. They minimize counter-attack chances by not taking too many risks, and the Stars were never really able to play their game for more than a couple minutes.
Except, that is, for the latter part of the first, when the Stars really did try to crank things up. Goligoski's goal was created by some good hard work by Spezza, father of four, and Nichushkin, who looked in his element tonight. Because of the Kings' positioning, Nichushkin had to skate the puck back to draw his defender, which created space for a streaking Spezza, who did well just to get the puck rimmed around to Goligoski, who was pinching perfectly. It was a nice play.
The goal that came off that chance was still a fortunate one though, which tells you just how tough it is to score on LA. Of course, it's a bit easier when our favorite Ewok is in net. Do you miss those goals? I don't miss those goals, especially with all the new types of goals we have to keep us company this year.
Travis Moen drew a penalty, and clearly the Fates were unhappy with that, because the Stars proceeded to execute their worst power play in a while. They barely spent time in the zone for the advantage's duration, and suddenly you began to wonder if the Stars aren't just fine where they are in the Central Division actually, thank you very much. I'll take Chicago over Los Angeles this year.
Despite the clunker of a power play, the Stars still ratcheted up the momentum as the first went on, but they couldn't quite break through. So of course all it took was a innocent-looking zone entry, Goligoski's being unable to contain Lucic on account of Lucic's being an actual bear, and an Olympic-caliber dangle by Kopitar that must have had Kris Russell double-checking his jersey to make sure there wasn't a flaming "C" on it. Kari Lehtonen bit too hard, so sure, give him some grief, but this was a little too reminiscent of Johnny Oduya's forgettable inside-outside dance from a little while back.
It was kind of Los Angeles to put any hope for a Dallas comeback to bed right off the bat, so I guess thank you to the nice folks with that organization, and also to Dustin Brown. Speaking of ol' Dusty, Patrik Nemeth pinched in the offensive zone and almost held the puck in before the Kings' captain's goal, which tells you that the Stars were probably out to press even with two full periods left to play. Unfortunately, Nemeth couldn't keep the puck in, the covering-for-Nemeth Seguin couldn't contain Clifford because Seguin is not an NHL defenseman, and Kari got across, but not before the puck beat him there. It was one of those sequences where a big save could have changed things, but the Stars did not get big saves tonight. They got big something elses tonight.
One such else the Stars got was the most undeserved power play goal in recent memory. After another minute of inept entry efforts, Hemsky finally managed to gain the zone, Goligoski got it to the net, and Cody Eakin valiantly shot the puck into Enroth and stood nearby as Drew Doughty managed to put the rebound past his goaltender. Just a reminder that even the so-called Best Defenseman in the NHL has his Jordie/Daley moments every now and then, mmk?
Travis Moen was denied his second drawn penalty of the game because, well, I don't think the officials were prepared for that eventuality, to be honest. It must have been tough for Moen to watch Stephen Johns be rung up for a nonexistent illegal check to the head shortly after that, but Moen's a tough guy, so I'm sure he was able to handle it.
The last little gasp Dallas got was another power play generated by Lucic's overabundant testosterone exerting its wrath upon Stephen Johns. Benn was able to feed Seguin with a cross-crease pass that we haven't seen in ages, but Tyler Seguin's golden chance was saved by the only part of Enroth's body that covers the top half of the net, which is to say his head. Again, I am 95% sure that there was an Irony Witch in the crowd tonight just going hog wild.
Finally, Alex Goligoski stepped up to the Alternate Captain Plate and made Kris Russell feel slightly less alone. Obviously that's a horrible turnover, and obviously Niemi was a bit screened by Johns right before the shot was released, but you really couldn't have expected Dallas to overcome another two-goal deficit in the final frame against a top team, right?
Ales Hemsky had two great chances to give Dallas the lead, but he was stopped both times because Jhonas Enroth is one of those bad Ewoks that decided to help the Stormtroopers instead. (Check the Jedi director's cut.) It was weird to see Hemsky creating chances amid the bigger and stronger Kings players, but mainly because we're taught that the "gritty" players are the ones you need in physical games like this one. Personally, I'll take a skilled player with hands when you need scoring chances generated. Scoring chances are important.
Stephen Johns was perfectly set up by Jamie Benn to step into the slot and score, but Tyler Seguin couldn't quite get out of the way of Johns' shot. That's probably going to be the worst sort of bruise for Tyler: painful in its nature and in the associated memory.
Jamie Benn was Full Jamie Benn tonight, but it's a sobering thing to witness when even that spectacle isn't enough to get past another team's locked-down system. You really can't allow a team like LA to get big leads early and expect to win more than 5% of the time.
Kris Russell has been pretty good, and then tonight he was not pretty good. It's unfortunate, but I would have been gobsmacked had Dallas gone through the Blues, Hawks and Kings with a green and depleted defense corps without ever paying for it. I guess we should be grateful that it just all happened in one game instead of being spread throughout the last few days? Anyway, Russell still ended up playing four minutes more than anyone else, so you don't need to worry about him having lost Ruff's trust or anything.
Speaking of trust, Jamie Oleksiak really looked good tonight. He has a fluid sort of game that belies his size, but when he's using his reach and strength to good effect, he's an asset. Certainly he was the type of player tonight that you wouldn't mind seeing on your third pairing, which was nice to see.
The Kings are rolling right now, and the Stars got knocked flat. Maybe it's unsettling, but since the Stars wouldn't see them in the playoffs until the Conference Final, I'm fine tabling any matchup discussion for the time being.
Giveaways are bad.