WCQF Game 5 Afterwords: Because Of Course It Wasn't Going To Be That Easy
Let's go ahead and get all the rage out of our system now, shall we?
* * *
Hey, that was the worst. At least, I think it was? It's weirdly easy to complain after being up 4-3 in a game where the Stars trailed 2-0 before the seats were warm, but maybe that's the cost of being the top seed. You have expectations, and when your hope is justified only to be ripped right out again, it's painful.
First, I think there's little doubt that Kari Lehtonen will be starting Game 5. Losses have been a good opportunity for Lindy Ruff to alter the tandem even when the goalie plays well, and this night was not exactly that sort of a night.
You felt awful going into overtime, right? I definitely did, even though Dallas had been the better team in terms of everything that mattered up to that point. No margin for error is a terrifying place for Stars fans, and recent memories (well, memory) of overtime are not pleasant. True to form, Dallas controlled things for basically all of overtime before Ryan Suter flung a hopeful shot from a ways out, and it was perfectly tipped in because of course it was going to be perfectly tipped, and we all knew it. Minnesota scored on 3 of their final 6 shots tonight, shooting 20% for the night, while Dallas had over 90(!) attempts at the net and scored on only four of them.
Look, let's just run down the goals, because there were a lot of them, and each one made you elated or infuriated. Time to dredge those feelings up and excise them one by one from a Stars perspective:
Min 1, Dal 0 - Mikael Granlund
Fault: Alex Goligoski, then everyone else. Lindy Ruff apparently talked to Goose about not putting himself in bad situations after Game 4, so when Goligoski chose to cut behind the net protecting the puck one-handed instead of dishing to Johns, he left himself vulnerable to the poke check from Jones. From there, Mikael Granlund deked Niemi, who stayed with him, but Niemi was pulled out of his net to make the save, and no Stars (Jamie Benn and Stephen Johns were closest) were there to follow up the play. That opened up a stuff/wrap chance for Granlund, who spent approximately fourteen seconds excavating the puck, shoving his stick into Niemi's glove, and then using a makeshift lever system to eventually score the goal. It was ugly, players were standing still, and Alex Goligoski was benched for the rest of the period for betraying Lindy Ruff's trust. Thankfully, most fans are much more understanding when it comes to Goligoski's overall merit, and they would forgive him for the error after his goal later on.
I made up one of the sentences in that paragraph, but I bet you cannot guess which one.
Min 2, Dal 0 - Jordan Schroeder
Fault: Antti Niemi. Any time you let a piano-playin' wimp with bad posture pot a rebound off your glove, you have some explaining to do. Ryan Suter apparently thought Jordie Benn was playing tonight, because his "just fling low-percentage shots on net and things will take care of themselves" strategy was operating at full power. There were bodies in front, Niemi really needed to hang onto the puck instead of dumping it right in front of the net, and he did, ah, not that. Johnny Oduya didn't do him any favors either, certainly, but Oduya had the right position on his attacker, and the puck bounced right to Schroeder's tape for the easy rebound goal. A tad lucky, to be sure, but that's why goalies need to snag those shots to eliminate the variables. Defenders are not precogs (YET).
Min 2, Dal 1 - Johnny Oduya
Credit: Ales Hemsky, John Klingberg, Radek Faksa, and Oduya. Hemsky busted into the zone to win the puck, and while his effort at the net wasn't likely to result in anything, he chose to go there instead of taking the easy path around the net or back along the boards. As a result, the bad Prosser clear created by his effort was picked up by a headlong-rushing John Klingberg, and his rebound was then picked up by Faksa, who cleverly dropped it for Oduya. Johnny Oduya is in Playoff Mode these days, and he made no bones about ripping the puck at the net. It worked. The third line worked. The third line is amazing. Where is our Ales Hemsky bobblehead, universe?
Min 2, Dal 2 - Jamie Benn
Credit: John Klingberg, Jamie Benn. Mikko Koivu got first star of the game in most people's eyes, but his lazy clear of a Goligoski shot was nabbed by the lanky Klingberg, who then waited for Benn to get open and fired it to his tape. Benn had to corral the hot pass, but he was able to do so and pull it back to his forehand, by which time Devan Dubnyk had gone completely prone, leaving a post open for the tuck. It was a gorgeous bit of high-level skill for the Stars, and it wouldn't be the last time someone in tight beat the gigantic Dubnyk to a post along the ice. What good is being 6'6" if you cannot guard those posts, you might ask? Well, there is a very good answer for that, and it has to do with stocking shelves at Costco when you are retired, which is my personal career plan. Don't judge me just because I have goals.
Min 3, Dal 2 - Nino Niederreiter
Fault: John Klingberg. While Antti Niemi could have stolen this game with a big stop on any of the Wild's four goals, the Stars absolutely cannot give up these sorts of chances to a team they are outplaying. Klingberg lost track of his man or lost track of where his partner was, and all of a sudden he was on the wrong end of a breakaway. The most agonizing part of this play is that Klingberg closed in enough to take a delayed penalty but not enough to actually disrupt Niederreiter. Can we please just mandate that all defenseman take the penalty in that scenario from here on out? Goalies stop, like, 104% of all penalty shots these days. It's worth it. Pants the guy if you have to, just don't let him get the shot of.
Besides, even if they only get a power play and score, people might then blame the penalty kill instead of you, so you're probably off the hook either way!
Aside: It also occurs to me that Minnesota never did get a power play. Great Job Dallas Stars for Following the Rules and all that, but it really doesn't matter a whole lot when you give up five even-strength tallies and don't score on nearly a full two minutes of 4v3 yourselves. Special teams are good to be good at, as I faintly recall people saying in a recent game.
Min 3, Dal 3 - Jason Spezza
Credit: Jason Spezza, Jason Spezza, and Jason Spezza. After wheeling up the ice, cutting into the zone, and protecting the puck, Spezza fed Eaves with a beautiful pass. Eaves would miss his shot, but Janmark would whack the puck back behind the net. From there, Spezza stole it from the defender whose name I'm too lazy to check, went to the net, and somehow found the 1.5 inches of room Dubnyk left at the far post. It was a pretty bad goal if you're Dubnyk (and he's had a couple of those in the series), but it was 98% Spezza from a Stars perspective, and it was a monumental tally. Jason Spezza is the reason we aren't talking about Tyler Seguin's absence every single minute of every game. Have I mentioned how amazing that Spezza trade was? I probably should mention that. It was amazing.
Min 3, Dal 4 - Alex Goligoski
Credit: Cody Eakin, Alex Goligoski, Scandella/Prosser's torsos. After as clean a faceoff win as you could ask for from Eakin, Goligoski took the puck along the point and fired it at the net. This was the goal that made me think victory was fated (sorry about that, fate), as the puck then bounced off both Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser on its way into the net. Dallas had been pushing and pushing, and they finally surmounted the deficit they'd been chasing since five minutes into the first. Things were going their way, and the Wild seemed to have almost nothing left.
This summer, I'm planning to write a bitter "You All Never Appreciated Alex Goligoski, and You Should Apologize" piece. Curt Fraser wrapped Goligoski in a hug from behind after this tally, which must have been just amazing after having to bench the veteran Stars d-man for the first period. Redemption had come, and things were looking up. This game was going to be a story of obstacles overcome, of character enduring, and of the inevitable challenges that face those who go to battle, and the elation that spreads across their visage when they emerge on the other side.
That is what this game was going to be, but then you all started making plans and opening your big fat mouths, and Lady Fortune overheard you. The Stars' third line again created a scoring chance, but a flailing Dubnyk and desperate Wild defense foiled the Stars' stake just as it started to plunge into St. Paul's collective carotid, and that left the door open. I hate stupid doors. Whoever invented them sucks. No one pays me to write this gold, if you can believe it.
Min 4, Dal 4 - Mikko Koivu
Fault: Lady Fortune, All You Big-Mouthed Saps, Cody Eakin, Stephen Johns
Seriously, how does this:
Turn into this?
Well, there are a couple guys who look like they're on accidental double-coverage, but that speaks as much to the timidity of the Wild attack as it does to the defensive choices of Dallas. The bottom line is that Johns doesn't block the pass out to Number One Minnesota Wild Center Mikko Koivu at the same time that Number One Dallas Stars Center Cody Eakin fails to cover his man. As a center, your job is to cover the other team's center (or whoever is in that deadly part of the slot if you've exchanged coverage with others). It was a frantic rush behind the net after Granlund got involved, but the Stars ultimately failed to have their sticks where they were supposed to have them, and it cost them the lead. And given how overtime appears to be destined to operate for Dallas until the earth melts and the moon turns red, a late game-tying goal by the Wild was as good as a win. Don't worry though, they still went ahead and played the overtime part anyway. We weren't going to get off that easy.
Min 5, Dal 4 - Mikko Koivu
Why does hockey even exist? Well, that's a good question. Some folks claim it was invented by Ancient Egyptian Priests of Ra as a means of taunting their enemies. "Go to the land of ice, where Ra shall never melt your water or burn your skin," they would say. "Where stone may carve the frigid water crystals after they reach zero degrees Celsius, thence shall every creature be sent who dares defy Ra, Creator of Sweet Beach Towels and the SPF Ranking System for Sunblock."
Other claim that hockey was a re-imagined game that became popular in the French Revolution (that's the one from Les Miserables, I think). After chopping the heads off of every member of nobility, gentry and the Union of Department Store Mannequins, riotous mobs had to do something will all their spare Guillotine blades, and strapping them to their old-timey shoes during winter seemed perfectly natural after disease had claimed the lives of 85% of their anarchist throngs. Instead of pucks, they used musket balls, and instead of hockey sticks, they used baseball bats stolen from the ancient storehouse of Abner Doubleday's great-great-grandfather. This is all 100% true, but don't tell baseball truthers. *rolls eyes while chuckling at all those goofy baseball truthers*
Personally, I'm a Classic Hockey Guy through and through. Deep down, I think we all know that hockey is just the next iteration of Waterboarding. We've all been test subjects of the Hoover FBI regime for decades upon decades now, even though Hoover's long been dead and the Bureau is now run by his reanimated corpse possessed by the soul of Archie Bunker. This is the most logical explanation for why hockey does these things to us, and our patriotism is the most logical explanation for why we keep coming back. We love you, America (or Canada if you're Derek, who didn't even score a single goal during his trip to the AAC), and we will do what it takes to make you great. If that means subjecting ourselves to unending torment and lifelong wincing every time someone mentions the great game of Hockey, then let the rains come. Onward, my friends! Even if Game 6 brings unimaginable agony, we will always have the solace of knowing that we are part of a huge conspiracy to develop methods for extracting information from our enemies. If that doesn't make you feel better, then I just don't know what will.
(Please don't debate waterboarding in the comments. That would be the only possible way you could make this game hurt more.)