Stark Reminders: Flying Benn Formation

Jamie Benn can fly. Anton Khudobin can bend physics. Anything can happen in chaos-driven playoff hockey.

The Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames put on a show in Game 5 on Tuesday. Dallas now leads the series 3-2 after 60 minutes of hockey that showcased skill without the result of elevated heart rates in fans. You can give me all the grief you want, but sometimes, a girl just wants to watch a hockey game that has the approximate chill level of a Major League Baseball game played in August. Regardless, it was a good game put on by the Stars. They kept up consistent pressure throughout, didn’t get locked into “puck vision” mode, and didn’t scramble or collapse defensively when Mikael Backlund scored the lone goal for Calgary. On top of all that, we won’t soon forget the sight of Jamie Benn flying through the air and into the net in the puck’s wake. I wonder if he was humming Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle” as he launched into the net?

Regardless, let’s hop into the reminders for Game 5 as we wait for Thursday’s game.

Reminder No. 1: Cue “Physical” by Dua Lipa

For the majority of the series, Dallas has been at a serious disadvantage when it comes to physicality. While they do have large, hard-hitting players like Jamie Oleksiak and Corey Perry, the Stars have seemingly valued playing the puck without getting physical. Calgary, on the other hand, is a physical team and that presence on the ice has become a defining trait for them over the past few seasons. That physicality is present and obvious in this series, with large hits delivered by Calgary beginning in Game 1 and right through to Game 5. However, Dallas appeared to be getting more comfortable with pushing back during Game 4 and that trend continued in a big way in Game 5.

By the end of the second period in Game 5, the Stars had delivered more hits than the Flames (30 compared to 27). That is the first time in the series that the Stars have outmaneuvered the Flames in the hits department. Each of the previous four games have featured hit counts upward of 30 and at least one game that had 40-plus hits from both teams. It’s clear that this series is somewhat of a grudge match between the two sides, which makes for entertaining hockey to watch for fans. Just, please, Dallas and Calgary, don’t actually hurt one another.

Calgary has already gone down a player (Matthew Tkachuk) due to several hard hits on him by Dallas players, with the last one delivered by Jamie Benn before Tkachuk left the game. He hasn’t returned since. While physical, gritty hockey can be fun to watch, there is always the danger of a hit gone too far. We’ve all watched at least one playoff game in recent years where a hit that would have been physical and inciting to both sides turned dangerous and resulted in a player seriously injured.

The Stars are finally upping their physical presence on the ice though, and through the first two periods of Game 5 it resulted in more space and time for the team to set up and work through well-executed plays in the offensive zone. This trailed off in the third, but the Stars never lost the physical edge. Calgary has done the same as well. So yes, while that is fun to watch, please, everyone, don’t actually put a player on the injured reserve.

Reminder to the Stars to keep up the physical play, just without the consequence of hurting yourselves or the Flames.

Reminder No. 2: Nothing Is Boring If You Look At It Carefully

Theoretical and mathematical physicist Freeman Dyson is right. At first glance, the Stars appeared to play “boring” hockey for the majority of Game 5. However, when you look carefully at the highlights, you then see the simplistic beauty of their cycles, the solid cleanup along the boards, and the consistent pressure on the Calgary players. The Stars weren’t interested in making flashy plays (outside of the spectacle of Jamie Benn crashing the Calgary net approximately 0.5 seconds after scoring). Instead, the Stars went back to their strengths and then committed to them. They clustered in front of Khudobin, and while that has proved disastrous for them in the past, it worked because the difference in Game 5 was that they had their heads on a swivel to track all players, instead of hyper-focused on the puck.

The Stars kept up that “tempo vision” throughout the game, always clocking what the Flames were up to and shadowing them so closely that they disrupted a large portion of plays before the Flames could get them started. In addition to that, the Stars were absolutely feeling it with rebounds on turnovers. The stop-and-start nature of a chippy game, with constant whistles and resets at the face-off circles, lends to the feel of an exciting, fast-paced game. To have long plays, complete with turnovers and plays by the opposing team, without a whistle to interrupt it, lends an air of stability and the lull of calm complacency. Make no mistake; the Stars were not complacent in Game 5. Yes, there were uncalled penalties in the second period. There were also some breathtaking setups in the offensive zone and saves by the goaltenders that defied the laws of physics.

The second period had no goals, no penalties, no power plays or penalty kills — and that was okay. Why? Because the tempo and quality of play was of the caliber you expect to see out of two teams fighting for a win in the playoffs. There were no real breakout plays by the Stars, but they worked with intention to keep the game flowing, and that paid off in the long, deep cycles close to the net that happened again and again throughout the game. However, because no goals occurred, there is every chance the coaching staff scraps everything that worked in the second. If they want to control the direction and pace of play, they need to stick to what works best — basically everything in the first and second periods.

Reminder to the Stars for more periods like that, just with some goals tossed in.

Reminder No. 3: Dobby Is A Good Elf

And yes, the Flames are Lucius and Draco Malfoy in this literary reference. Chalk it up to the magic of the green tape job on the knob of his stick. Chalk it up to multiple starts while Ben Bishop remains “unfit to play.” Chalk it up to #JustDobbyThings, but Anton Khudobin has been lights-out good in this series. Yes, there have been a couple of games with a high number of goals allowed, but when you review them, most of the goals come from weird bounces, thick screens, and lack of proper defending in the Dallas zone. Even when allowing four goals in Game 4, Khudobin has been magical. And don’t forget his performance in the net for 16:05 of overtime in that same game. Khudobin never looks rattled in net. Exasperated and “Why, hockey gods, why me?” when the defense in front of him collapses, but never rattled or looking like he’s being chased out of the net. That is a rare trait for a goaltender, and Khudobin is not your average goaltender.

He has been a blessing of grace under pressure and determined, aggressive optimism for the Stars in a stressful, up-and-down series against the Flames. This postseason has seen sudden, dramatic collapses in goaltending, from Jordan Binnington to Matt Murray and several others. Some of the best starters in the league never had a chance to get going before they found themselves on the wrong side of a shutout. To have a calm, composed goaltender like Khudobin, who is able to step into the starter role so effortlessly, that is a true gift.

Reminder to the Stars that Khudobin deserves to be called an elite goaltender. (And that the players owes him several steak dinners for his acrobatic, physics-defying feats in net.)

Reminder No. 4: Nope, Don’t Do The Thing

Do. Not. Turtle.

That’s it. That’s the reminder.

Let me explain. Have you noticed the trend, especially when Dallas has the lead, that they turtle in the third period? By that I mean their tendency to pull in on themselves defensively as they cut down on offensive power and instead just protect the lead. Instead of widening that lead or actively chasing the win, they hold steady. Sometimes, that act of turtling ends in disaster with a last-minute comeback and win by the opposing team after the Stars withdrew too far within their defensive shell. The Stars didn’t too much of that in the final period of Game 5. However, they now lead the series and only need one more win to advance to the next round of the playoffs. They cannot turtle for Game 6, not even for just one period of it. This is playoff hockey and anything can happen. They cannot become defensive and complacent. Doing so could prove disastrous for their playoff hopes. They need to show up for puck drop on Thursday with the same energy and consistency on display in Game 5.

Reminder to the Stars for Game 6 to play fast, aggressive hockey and not withdraw into a victory green shell at any point in the game.

Game 6 is scheduled for Thursday, August 20, with the start time yet to be determined.