Game 72 Afterwords: Two Captains, Two Goals
Jamie Benn held the torch high tonight.
Not much I can add to a really special day in Dallas, so here are some random bullet points.
What a satisfying comeback, eh? The crowd was into it, the game was close throughout, and who scored the game-winner? Well, who else?
Good to see Cody Eakin set up Jamie Benn in the third for a bit of redemption. Eakin didn't take another shift in the first after his unforced turnover led to Tampa's first goal, but a nice blind backhand assist like that is a good way to come back.
Jamie Oleksiak continues to look like a different player than we saw earlier this season. Can you believe he's one of only two current Stars defenders to have donned the pre-green jerseys? He and Nemeth weren't always paired together, but who saw Oleksiak being perhaps the steadier member of that pair back in October? Not I.
Stephen Johns, of course, is the defender we should be talking about. He looked really confident as the game went along, and while he's had a couple Learning Moments since his recall (including one that Oduya did well to clean up against LA), he absolutely deserved his goal tonight. He was getting on the nerves of multiple Bolts, and that's what size and smarts can do on the back end.
Radek Faksa also drew some ire from Ben Bishop, although maybe it was more of a professional, "Dude, you totally should have scored on me in this game" sort of love tap after that whistle. No? Well, whatever. Faksa and Hemsky on the same line is a beautiful thing to watch when it works, which is mostly always, lately.
Bishop, by the way, is an interesting goalie. I don't know that I'd be willing to throw a ton of money at him considering his 30th birthday is on the horizon, but a puck-handling goalie with that size (and those stats) isn't something a Dallas fan can easily turn her or his nose up at. Moot point given the situation in the Stars' crease, but you have to think Tampa will be transitioning to Vasilevskiy without too much concern.
Hemsky's been flying the last couple of games. Hands, wheels and vision make for one heck of an NHL player. His biggest flaw is always going to be his size, but I'll take a lost puck battle along the boards here or there for someone who can carry the puck into the zone practically blindfolded, creating scoring chances almost out of habit.
Steven Stamkos is a giant, sweater-wearing scoring chance himself, come to that. I wanted to be frustrated when he almost worked over Russell 1v1 (and Kari on the rebound) for a late goal, but you can't really fault Kris Russell for not shutting down Steven Stamkos. You shouldn't, at least.
Kari didn't actually look his best tonight, I thought. Granted, the game was hectic and Dallas gave up some chances he was never going to stop, but he's not quite locked in yet. Maybe he's saving it for the playoffs? Let's go with that.
Tyler Seguin really had to hate double-clutching on the power play. (Yes, "the" power play. Is this the referee's union giving payback for the Dennis Wideman thing?) Stamkos converted on an almost identical chance, and while Bishop has a few inches on Kari, you really hope Seguin will put those pucks away in April. (Personally, I have little doubt that he will do just that.) By the way, Seguin apparently got cut on his leg in the final minute of play. Update should come Friday morning, but would everyone please stop touching Seguin with sharp things? This is me using silliness as a defense mechanism.
This game was another one of those "yep, that's the Stars" games. Seesaw bad-luck goals for each team--I'm not even going to guess which unforgivable curse Spezza cast to make that goal happen for him--then premium scoring chances for each team that a sniper puts home, then good puck possession (outstanding possession by Tampa, actually) leads to an uncontested shot. True, Johns's shot was a few dozen feet farther out than Stamkos's tap-in, but work with the narrative, okay? You never felt totally confident about this game, but the Stars' best players scored, their defense activated nicely a few times (Nemeth again almost scored his first on a timely rush), and they held the other team to three goals. For Dallas, "held" might be the correct word to use there, and I'm starting to be okay with that. At least, I'm okay with it when Dallas scores four. Math makes everyone feel better.
Finally, did you watch the press conference from today? How about the Morrow tribute video from before the puck dropped? That montage in particular really stirred something in me, as my own close following of the Stars began right around the time Morrow got his #45 sweater. I know the 4OT goal won't completely erase the Arnott dagger, but when I watch those many, many Morrow highlights, it's hard to be anything but grateful for what he gave this town. And just like Brett Hull, he was smiling in just about every single highlight. It's tough to realize that's gone now.
Seeing him between Modano and Benn said it all, really. You had two tall scorers that have been on their fair share of magazine covers, that have scored countless pretty goals (including another one for Benn tonight), and then you had Brenden Morrow. The old captain stood a few inches shorter, without quite as many dekes and breakaway moves in his bag of tricks, but more than a few scars richer. That might be a weird adjective to use for scars, but when it comes to leadership, I'm not sure there's any currency more valuable. In Morrow's case, it was priceless. Thank you, MiniMo.