WCSF Game 6 Afterwords: Going the Distance
Kari Lehtonen totally redeemed himself.
To be frank, I didn't expect the Stars to win Game 6. Losing Game 5 at home in disappointing and luckless fashion felt like confirmation of Fate's intentions, and there was little reason to expect Dallas to come off the mat in St. Louis yet again.
That's what they did, though. Despite playing on an ice surface unfit for rollerblades, the Stars cashed in every single IOU written in Game 5, converting on all three of their prime chances in the first. Nichushkin and Janmark were fabulous on the first goal, Colton Sceviour and Vernon Fiddler combined for a slick second, and Jason "Cool Older Brother" Spezza toe-dragged around the stricken form of Jay Bouwmeester & Friends before chasing Brian Elliott altogether. The 3-0 lead would hold up despite St. Louis turning all their guns broadside and unleashing everything they had, and when the dust had settled, Kari Lehtonen was soberly recounting the game of his life.
I don't want to minimize the great work Dallas did to get the lead in the first place, and I also don't want to ignore the fact that Dallas won the special teams battle. They killed a couple of penalties, and John Klingberg turned a shorthanded breakaway into a Jason Spezza goal. The offense gave them three goals in St. Louis, and that's really something you would take all day long, given the team and situation.
The same goes for players like Mattias Janmark, who sapiently blocked a shot and got out of dodge in time for Nichushkin to feed him on a partial breakaway. Janmark may be older than your typical rookie (though he's still a year younger than Artemi Panarin), but he's had some absolutely vital plays so far this postseason, and his second breakaway goal this series was easily the most wonderful of them all (so far). That's bonus production, but it's what great teams need. It is what Dallas got.
You want to wallow in victories like this one, and goals like Vernon Fiddler's remind you why. Here is an undrafted player who had never seen the second round of the playoffs, and he scores a gorgeous (and hard-fought) tally on his 36th birthday with his parents in attendance. It's weird to think of someone that age being excited to have his mom and dad see him score, but there's no doubt that Fiddler does his best to cherish every wonderful hockey memory he makes. Certainly he deserves to do just that, considering how hard he's worked to be where he is. You want to root for guys like that.
By the way, I was only able to listen to the third period on a plane, because the paid internet (GoGo, of course) basically laughed and ran into the bathroom any time I tried to stream low-quality video from the Live Extra app. Let this be a lesson to you: airplane Wi-Fi might not be as fast as your broadband connection at home. All told, though, I think I'm glad I only had to listen to those last 10 minutes. It already felt like they took forever, so I'd imagine having to watch all that back-and-forth (or mostly just forth, in this game, if you're the Blues) was absolutely terrifying. Dave Strader and Razor did a good job of painting the pictures, for the record, but that's no surprise, is it?
For all the talk about shots and shot attempts, it's at least mildly worthy of note that the Blues were getting the vast majority of their (many) chances from outside the low slot, whereas Dallas scored two of their goals from that very area:
Which isn't to take a thing away from Kari Lehtonen, of course; I merely point out that, while Dallas basically made a Score Effects Turducken out of the last 40 minutes, they at least didn't allow tons of those chances that killed them in Game 5. Lehtonen still had to be magnificent, and he was magnificent enough. That stop on Schwartz with 30 seconds to go was a game-saver cherry on top of the "sorry, Kari" sundae his team set down in front of him (but not too closely in front of him). I think I speak for everyone when I say that this team does not need a Game 6 sent to overtime after having a multi-goal lead.
The MAHPOTG was the one you think it was, but let's not gloss over what John Klingberg did on that play. Defensemen forechecking at the far red line is unusual, but it does happen occasionally to help facilitate a change. Klingberg, in this instance, showed off his otherworldly hockey IQ by forechecking so well (and deceiving his mark along with that) that he was able to poke the puck right out to Hemsky for a Grad A chance, which is great until you realize that Hemsky had been frantically pressing the Deke button on his Xbox controller for about five minutes leading up to that puck finding him. In retrospect, you'd love to see him just instantly fire that puck when he collects it for the Stars' fourth goal; but also in retrospect, the Stars won this game, so probably you should never ever touch it if you get a time machine. This game was and is the butterfly effect house of cards.
I have no idea what David Backes thought he was doing when he clocked Patrick Sharp. Was that Backes just losing his coordinates, or was it a bit more "send a message" sort of thing? I honestly don't know; watching the clip, it's tough to say that Backes lines up Sharp or anything like that. Still, chalk that one up as yet another scary thing that somehow didn't knock the Stars down permanently.
Kris Russell and Jason Demers are not built to play the Blues in seven games, I suspect. What once looked like a mobile, alert team of breakout-pass wizards has lately turned into an unhappily married couple that rarely manages to team up for even the simple tasks around the house. On Monday, it felt as though the blue line was twenty feet high when the Stars' third pair was out there. If the playoffs are really going to be the key piece of informative material when it comes to re-signing one of the pending UFA defensemen, it's hard to say which one you'd really choose at this point. Even Goligoski had a stinker of a turnover (that would later hop over a stick to avert a deadly shot), and he surely knows how most coaches feel about turnovers. (They don't like them very much.)
Kari Lehtonen will play in his first Game 7 (it has to be Kari). The Stars will have another chance to get things done at home, and since it's not 2015 anymore, that is a good thing. Tyler Seguin probably won't be in the lineup from what I've seen published, but the Stars have beat St. Louis three times now without him. The flawed, messy Dallas Stars that no one seems to want to put their neck out for, that team, that motley crew of hockey dudes, will have everything to play for. It is going to be absolutely awful as a fan, by which I mean that we are all going to die a thousand deaths on Wednesday until puck drop. This is literally what we dreamed about, and it's happening before our eyes. Maybe we should have better, less stressful dreams from now on.