Game 54 Afterwords: Kari and Klingberg Combine for Grand Theft in the Sad State of Hockey
It's not all outdoor games and attendance boasting in Minnesota these days.
Everything Dallas hasn't been getting lately, they got tonight. And boy, did they need it.
Kari Lehtonen stood tall in a lopsided third period, and you began to remember what it felt like early in the season when Dallas was getting Netminding of Professional Quality from both goalies. Though unlike the Stars' last win (also an OT victory, but in Colorado) in its feel, Dallas' victory over a freefalling Minnesota--11 losses in their last 12, and now 1-10 in OT/Shootouts--also featured a timely power play goal, and a goalie who saved the Stars' bacon on some dangerous chances despite giving up three tallies.
It's tough, because Kari could've been the story of the game if not for the wacky/zany/bonkers sequence that ended with Matt Dumba's handsy assist. First, it was sadly not unexpected that the Stars once again allowed a Wild forward (Zach Parise, this time) to wind up alone with the puck in on Lehtonen. Kari managed to stop Parise, but the ensuing sequence saw Lehtonen appear to give up on the play--only he knows why, but I suspect he thought it went in when the crowd roared--before Dumba appear to glove the puck into the net.
The more I look at that play, the more I'm convinced that it was actually a hand pass, since that was the last part of Dumba to touch the puck before Koivu ostensibly knocked the puck into the goal from underneath Dumba's glove. Unfortunately, the Stars haven't had good luck with hand passes that turn into goals in recent years, and they (unlike high stick or a-millimeter-offside calls) aren't reviewable. Koivu's stick probably got the puck, and that was that.
Nothing about that goal looked legitimate, but it's hard to complain when you're the beneficiary of a goal as fluky as Demers' pinball wizardry earlier in the contest. Demers' shot (which was fed by a sapient Janmark) clanked off a skate and a shoulder before beating Kuemper, and don't even think about feeling bad about that one. They call it a dangerous area for a reason, that low slot, and that's one of the reasons why: bad (good) things happen when you shoot from there.
Goligoski's shot was also the successor to some weird bounces, but it capped perhaps the Stars' best shift of the first 60 minutes, as they shot-and-retrieved before Seguin (him again) found Goligoski backing up just enough to open up the boom-boom play. It's satisfying when defensemen pinching at the right times works, isn't it?
All told, the Stars got three goals from three different defensemen tonight, and they all came from the low slot. Perhaps its no coincidence then that the defense also allowed two breakaways in on Lehtonen. Certainly that would be the narrative from a less familiar perspective--the Stars' defense looking north too much--but the fact is that Haula's goal was just a sweet feed from Vanek as the forward hit the jets past a confused Nichushkin and Klingberg and went backhand shelf on Lehtonen. That was a really pretty goal.
Justin Fontaine's tally was much uglier, as it featured two rough decisions on defense: Jason Demers' choice to fling the puck into the slot on a 4-man rush instead of shooting, which begat a break the other way; and Johnny Oduya's desperation pinch to shut down the impending 3-on-1 that turned into a flat breakaway. Justin Fontaine saw Seguin blocking the passing lane (don't tell Boston how hard he was backchecking there) and proceeded to freeze Lehtonen with a shoulder dip, which opened up just enough space for another pretty goal up top from a streaking forward. It wasn't unlike the Jason Spezza move we'd seen earlier this season, actually.
Speaking of Spezza, the Stars' power play certainly had a different look to it tonight, and I confess that there were a few times where I missed the old reliable drop pass that usually gained the zone. Nonetheless, it was the New Look Advantage that finally scored, and it came with Seguin on the opposite side of the ice from his usual office. Certainly no one is suggesting that it's better to just let all five players scramble around to generate shots ad hoc during the power play, but there is some merit to allowing Tyler Seguin to do his thing, if that gorgeous backhand setup is any indication. And props to Eaves for whipping a shot up high, which may have been aided by a fluttering puck that stuck to his tape. The power play was a bit hampered (as was the team for that matter), but that Eaves goal was timely, and that's what the whole advantage is for.
It really was a miracle that Dallas got to overtime at all. The Stars must have spilled nachos on their Map to the Offensive Zone during the second intermission, because Minnesota absolutely stifled them to close out regulation (and it's not like the first period was all that pretty either). Dallas was expending all their energy just managing to retrieve dumped pucks and exit the zone, and Minnesota just didn't allow them to do anything. I'm sure we'll see a lot of gamers (as I write this Tuesday night) that say Minnesota played "perhaps their best period of the season, but didn't get rewarded for it" and things like that. That's not wrong at all. That period was like January squeezed into 20 minutes for Dallas, but as with the rest of the year, they had done enough work beforehand to survive it.
And as if to prove that life is about more than survival, John Klingberg teased us by missing his first glorious chance from the slot early in the 3-on-3 period. It was almost surreal to see Dallas come to life after they spent 15 minutes essentially turtling, but it's amazing how quickly this team's skating and scoring instincts can make you forgive them for their flaws.
When Jamie Benn picked up the puck next to the Wild bench in overtime, I thought for all the world that he was going to circle back to re-start the rush. Instead he jumped right into the fray, leaving Thomas Vanek in his wake as the final 3-on-2 began. (Vanek was ending a 70 second shift, by the way.)
As Benn came down the ice, you may have been cynical about the Stars' chances of maximizing the opportunity. Or perhaps you were just detached at that point, choosing to let fate have its way with what had seemed like an inevitable goal back in November.
For my part, I noticed a frisson stealing its way over the nerves as Benn and Seguin proceeded into the zone. A certain unadulterated anticipation rose as I likewise stood up, and suddenly it was November 2014 all over again: There was Jamie Benn, and there was Tyler Seguin, his favorite (and almost only) target. But then, entering the frame so late you'd almost not dared to hope he was there, Klingberg entered, stage right.
John Klingberg redeemed this hot mess of a game after Kari Lehtonen kept it from wasting away. John Klingberg took in every bit of his surroundings, leaned on his stick just enough to know it wouldn't fail him, and fired the puck exactly where you knew he was going to: the top corner of the net.
It was fitting that the dads were watching this one, because the game was itself a culminating adolescence. The Stars were all awkward-yet-ignorant smiles early, but the second period was as "chip off the old block!" as you could hope for. Then came the moody teenage years of the third period, and who doesn't know how rough those can be for child and parent alike?
But Dallas found itself eventually, even if it took longer than they might have liked. John Klingberg is the goofy son of this team (especially of Jason Demers) just as he is the progeny of that bespectacled man in the stands in Minnesota. And tonight, he and his team made dad proud. Eventually.