WCQF Game 6 Afterwords: Stars Win Playoff Series for First Time in Eight Years
I think I just aged twenty years in twenty minutes.
After the Wild came back to beat Dallas in overtime in Game 5, you would have taken a win in Game 6 at almost any cost, right? Well, Dallas appeared to have bought the Wal Mart version of that win, because it came in just about the least desirable fashion possible.
While the 4-0 lead in the third period wasn't technically "blown," the Stars would end up needing some charity from a bewildered Dubnyk, who lost a deflected Goligoski shot halfway through the period before putting it into his own net. That such a weird goal would end up being the game-winner is fitting, as Dallas's play in the final frame certainly didn't deserve plaudits of its own.
That said, don't forget about Kari Lehtonen's save on Nino Niederreiter when the Wild forward got in alone behind the defense. It was "that save" that Niemi couldn't come up with in Game 5, and while Lehtonen's stats wouldn't look pretty by the time the final horn sounded, I can't help but look back at that save (and the Stars' first four goals) and think of this season as a whole.
Remember, the Stars built a huge lead in the first half of the year. They would end up finishing atop the West by virtue of the events in Game 82, and that was because of a winter ennui that actually saw them surrender first in the Central to the Chicago Blackhawks for a time. It was only by gutting it out in the last part of the season that Dallas managed to keep just enough separation in order to walk away with the Central.
Of course that's not how any sane person (or coach, certainly) would draw things up. You want to dominate from puck drop to final buzzer. Sure, even the Capitals had themselves a pretty decent funk in the back half of their year--those same Capitals that also managed to eke out a 1-0 win vs. Philly in an eerily similar Game 6 situation--but fans (and players) have to live through the day-to-day. Even if the big picture ends up looking good enough for government work, going through the Valley of the Shadow of Death on Ice is never pleasant, and far less so when you have a team whose most recent Game 6 experiences were anything but rosy.
That same 2014 Game 6 is what makes this win so surprisingly tolerable, though. Here you had a young team in Dallas who enjoyed far more success than most had predicted, and yet their flaws were as glaring as any team's you could name. Kari Lehtonen wasn't "mentally tough." Too many of their players "didn't know how to win." They played a style that didn't "work" in the playoffs. Pick your aphorism from those or choose another I didn't name. No matter how you phrase it, the conventional wisdom had plenty of explanations ready for why Dallas would collapse when the going got tough. Even Dallas could have pointed multiple fingers at uncalled infractions by Minnesota as the third wore on, but since that's how officiating works (or doesn't work) in late playoff games, their complaints would have been nothing more than sour grapes.
I'm not trying to gloss over anything. The Wild went "41 Thundertruck" on Dallas, and the Stars got caught on their heels. Antoine Roussel let his passion override wisdom in using his free hand, and that bit of power play life was all the Wild would need to get Dallas out of sorts. It wasn't reassuring, not by half, and it wasn't easy to watch. In fact, it was pretty much the most excruciating win I have seen in a long, long time. This wasn't how one-seeds were supposed to handle eight-seeds without their only real high-level scorer. This wasn't how Kari's redemption (vindication?) was supposed to come.
It did come though, even if the flag of victory was a bit more bloodstained by the time it was finally planted than it should have been. For a team full of playoff newbies, and for a team that spent last April doing exit interviews and playing golf, getting through the first round is immeasurably important. The Wild were desperate, and they played like it. Dallas used every bit of the margin they'd created for themselves, up to the very last inch. But they got that margin in the first place, and that's what ended up getting them into round two.
The first ones are rarely pretty. Remember Los Angeles going down 3-0 to San Jose in 2014? Heck, that team was more or less stacked, but it took them three-plus games to figure out how to turn things on. Playoffs are a different animal, and never was that more apparent than when we witnessed the Wild's newfound ability to score when trailing late in Games 5 and 6. Things get nutso in the postseason, but Dallas found a way to advance. If the Narrative holds water, that should make the group stronger an better-prepared for the next one.
I guess we'll find out how true that is when the next one starts. Until then, let's watch the Blues and Blackhawks beat each other up for one more game, shall we? This is why finishing in first is a good thing.
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I don't have too deep a desire to get into the blow-by-blow, likely as a result of the traumatic way this win went down. Nonetheless, I do still have some questions about a few things that I won't be happy if I omit from this post.
Question 1: With the score 4-3, was Kari Lehtonen's pass right to Jason Zucker some sort of high-level mind game? Like, "Hey, bet you weren't expecting this to happen, right? Ha!" I certainly hope it was, because it cost me about fifty grey hairs. Thanks, Kari.
Question 2: When Brodin's shot pinballed into Pominville's chest and dropped at his feet for an easy tap-in to make it 5-4, was Kari Lehtonen about to file a grievance with the Bureau of Fate? Lehtonen was nails this series, but I'm sure he triple-checked the clock once it hit zero just to make sure no other shoes were left to drop.
Question 3: Hey, Jason Demers. Big fan here. Quickly, if you have a moment, just curious why you, ah, apparently fired the puck...well, directly at Kari there late. Sure, I know you made certain to keep about a quarter-inch of it over the goal line, and that was very considerate of you; all the same, I sort of actually died when I saw that reply, so would you mind maybe never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever doing that again? Appreciate it. Also, love those Dr. Pepper chats. Keep 'em coming!
Question 4: Was the John Klingberg 5-on-3 goal the most important power play goal Dallas scored this series? Considering Minnesota would go on to go 2-for-4, I'm not sure Curt Fraser ever would have heard the end of it if his squad hadn't found a way to capitalize two nights in a row. Good on the top guys for being patient enough, and extra good on Devan Dubnyk for being befuddled by Spezza as he passed to Klingberg.
Question 5: Was Goligoski or Eakin more at fault on the Jonas Brodin goal? I suspect that each of them, if they chose, could offer an explanation for why they went where they went, and why they thought the other was going to cover Brodin. Regardless, you ended up with three guys paying attention to the puck carrier Haula, and guess if that meant a wide open guy ended up scoring. Okay, well, you don't have to guess, but the answer was "yes." You're no fun.
Question 6: Which did you enjoy watching more: Benn's rolling-puck snipe past Dubnk, or Sharp's rush chance placed perfectly off the post? There is no wrong answer to this question.
Question 7: How long is it going to take for us to all feel good about this series? I am assuming years, but there is also that chance that as soon as the semi-finals begin, we'll start remembering these halcyon days of having leads in six games straight and not really being able to name the highest-scoring player on the opposite team. Winning even a single playoff series is a huge accomplishment (unless you're Calgary last year against Vancouver), and I have a sneaking suspicion that this victory is going to burn more brightly every day as the stress it produced continues to melt away. Sports, eh?
Question 8: If Travis Moen had scored (as he almost did), would you want him in the starting lineup for the next series? Related question: are you already working on your "LINDY SENT VAL TO RUSSIA WITH HIS TINKERING" tweets?
Question 9: Were you screaming at each empty-net attempt under 40 seconds? A soft puck out of the zone can kill 10-15 seconds, and as time began standing still and the magnetic field around Minnesota's net intensified, outlasting the clock was clearly going to be Dallas's only hope. That made each icing and subsequent d-zone faceoff about as fun as Game 5's overtime, which is to say not very.
Question 10: Was this a parallel universe version of 2014 we glimpsed? The eight-seed almost won a Game 6 on home ice to force a seventh game after initially going down 2-0 in the series, but they lost a 5-4 game that was inches from going the other way late in the third period. I guess that would make the 2016 Stars the 2014...okay, I don't like where this one is going at all.
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The Dallas Stars have eliminated the Minnesota Wild from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I will take that sentence forever.