Afterwords: It’s Only One Game, Right?
It’s only two losses in a row, right?
And if I have to beg for your love
Again and again and again
Tell me, tell me
Oh, will it ever be enough?
Not much to say after that one, really, so this one is gonna be short.
You had a Stars team that started really well—remember when that was a problem?—and then self-sabotaged its way to a laugher of a loss.
From 1-0 to 1-2, the Stars are suddenly in the unenviable position of desperately hoping for something to change, for the first time in a bit.
Could this game have gone differently? Oh, sure. The Stars outchanced Tampa 6-2 in the first period, and you really did feel, even after things tailed off in the second 10-minute chunk of the game, that Dallas had really deserved better.
But the thing about just deserts is that you can’t blame anyone if you award something worse to yourself. The Stars had a brilliant team energy level early on, but when the results didn’t come, they started flagging, all the way throughout the lineup.
For the first couple games of this series, you didn’t have to squint too much to see how the Stars could have earned a 2-0 lead. They really had been doing good things, and they seemed to have paid more for their mistakes than Tampa did.
This game saw that trend continue in a huge way, although the magnitude of the mistakes is probably worth mentioning. A clean breakaway from the blue line for Nikita Kucherov is probably not a great thing for your best play to give him, and a 3-on-1 to one of the best lines in hockey is probably ill-advised, as well.
These are just two of the many, many gifts Dallas gave Tampa in this one, and we’re not even going to spend time talking about the wonky officiating—seriously, how do you justify that interference penalty on Kiviranta in any universe?—because that didn’t really end up doing anywhere close to as much damage to Dallas as Dallas did to itself.
But we’re not here to sell Tampa short, either. They are the best team in the East for a reason, and it turns out, maybe for many reasons. Dallas may be great at defending the slot, but it’s hard to defend the ice when you’re consistently giving up odd-man rushes.
Still, those don’t come out of nowhere, just as a sloppy line change doesn’t happen for no reason. The Stars were getting trapped in their zone far too often, and they were even having trouble getting pucks deep just to get a safe change in as the game rolled along. I personally chalk that up to poor muscle memory, given how much more systemic success they’ve had until recently.
Yes, Tampa’s 1-3-1 was crushing the Stars’ breakout, but I wonder if the Stars didn’t largely allow that to happen by ceding some silly goals. Tampa has had the luxury of two games now in which they had sizable leads to defend, and that’s a great way to find a comfort zone in the neutral zone.
Alex Radulov might be injured, Blake Comeau and Radek Faksa certainly are, and Tyler Seguin might as well be, whether or not he is as banged up as you’d think he must be, to have been unable to score to this degree. Heck, even Joe Pavelski missed an exquisite one-time pass from Janmark to give the Stars some hope late. When Joe Pavelski can’t even work his late-game magic for this team, you know something is seriously off.
Or maybe we should’ve known that from the beginning, really. How many times have you seen Heiskanen make such a bad play, after all? Maybe once, across two seasons? I think he’s just trying to reset the breakout there by curling away, and then he realizes his edge is going, and he desperately tries to fling the puck away instead of giving it up to the forechecker right next to him. Unfortunately, the devil you know is often better than the devil in the middle of the ice.
Ben Bishop might start a game soon, if you believe the foosteps on Twitter. I suppose he might, but at this point, I’ve gotta be honest—that could go either way, and hard.
If Bishop comes out and the Stars even the series, then great! Winning a game is all that matters right now, as you simply cannot hope for coming back from 3-1 down to this Lightning team—and that’s true just as much in a series as in a game, given the way the Stars have been playing. So, if Bishop can do that for you, of course you do it. He certainly has the ability, insofar as any goalie does, given the depths to which Dallas is capable of sinking in a given period in this series.
The downside, of course, is that if Bishop has another period—whether his fault or not—like he did against Colorado, then you’ve pretty much punted the series right there. It’s a big risk, but then again, change always is, right?
This Stars team has defied so many doubters to get here, and it really does hurt to hear so many people crowing over a 2-1 lead right now. Tampa is more talented, even without Stamkos. That said, after playing just two-and-a-half minutes in the playoffs, Steven Stamkos now has half as many goals as Tyler Seguin does in nearly 400 minutes. Sometimes, the doubters have some of that pesky “evidence” on their side.
It’s weird, you know. The Stars two years ago were nothing but a dominant top line, and now, in their last four games, the Stars goal-scorers are Mattias Janmark, Joe Pavelski, Joel Hanley, Jamie Oleksiak, Miro Heiskanen, Joel Kiviranta (2), Jason Dickinson (2), Denis Gurianov, and Jamie Benn. In other words, eight of their last 11 goals have been scored by depth players. (Or just seven of 11, if you don’t consider 12-minute Gurianov to be depth.)
This whole rule has been such a gift, that you can’t hardly bear to see things turn. And they might not. Dallas has every chance of getting a break, or finally not getting some atrocious penalties called on them (please, call me out if I’m getting too biased, because I truly don’t trust myself to be objective at this point). If the game could just, you know, go on, then Dallas seems like the team that wins that battle, after 60 minutes. But so far, they’re wrecked two games by submarining themselves, or perhaps by being torpedoed by a superior vessel. They can ill afford to waste a third game.
If last night’s game got an early spark from the top line, tomorrow’s game needs a consistent commitment by every line to exploit Tampa’s weaknesses. They do exist—Vasilevskiy still doesn’t look that solid, but it’s hard to cash that in when you don’t have the puck—and the Stars know what they are. But right now, it’s hard to see them, thanks to the giant 2-1 bug on the windshield.
Hope is a wonderful thing, but it costs us dearly, almost always. To watch a game, let alone a playoff game, is to open yourself to disappointment and hurt. But joy cannot exist in a vacuum. So watch these games, because they don’t come around often, and be prepared to rejoice, to mourn, or just to see what happens. All I even want, at this point, is for the series to end with some good hockey games, even if they don’t always go the way we’d like. The last thing any of us wants, I suspect, is for these games to continue ending before they’ve hardly begun.