Stars' Weak Start Wastes Strong Finish

To focus on the hit is to ignore the way the Dallas Stars played to open Game 1, which was badly. Badly, and for lengthy stretches.

Stars' Weak Start Wastes Strong Finish
Credit: Tim Heitman / Dallas Stars

“We have the best officials in the world. They called a five, they reviewed it, which is the right thing to do. If they reviewed it and they decided it wasn’t a bad hit, then I guess it’s not for me to argue with that.” – Pete DeBoer

This is not an article about Dumba-on-Pavelski. I am not going to discuss angles of approach, principal points of contact, or the hitter’s intent. Pete DeBoer does not seem interested, and neither should you. Not right now, at any rate. The call was final; no further discipline is coming. All we can do at this point is hope Joe Pavelski makes a fully and speedy (emphasis on FULL) recovery. To be blunt, the hit is a sideshow, a distraction. To focus on the hit is to ignore the way the Dallas Stars played to open Game 1, which was badly. Badly, and for lengthy stretches. In this moment, in this series, that has to be the focus.

On Monday night, the Dallas Stars committed the unforgivable sin of passivity. Gifted a full and raucous American Airlines Center, the Stars effectively no-showed the first period. Out-shot (10-5 Wild), out-scored (1-0 Wild), and generally hapless, the Stars seemed disjointed from the word go. The Wild, on the other hand, consistently denied their opponents any meaningful offensive zone presence, gummed up the neutral zone, and counter-attacked with purpose. Penalties followed because they always do, and Kirill Kaprizov’s last-minute goal came as a well-earned capstone.

The Stars simply could not move the puck, nor could they take the puck from the Wild. (Un)fun fact: Esa Lindell had as many shots on goal as Dallas’ entire top nine. Even less fun fact: he did so with a total of two. Jamie Benn and Jason Robertson each managed a single goal-bound effort, and while Robertson’s turnaround was dangerous, it was not enough. It was not acceptable. Periods like the first are the sort that come back to haunt a team.

It almost got better. A better Stars effort forced a pair of early second-period penalties out of the Wild. It took nine seconds for the Stars to capitalize. Twice. Beautiful goals. The sort of goals to assure fans all is well, that nature is healing. So of course the Stars immediately took a pair of penalties of their own and let the air out of the balloon. The Wild did not score. Not immediately. Not before the Pavelski disaster, but by the time Pavelski was staggering off the ice it felt imminent. By intermission, the Stars had been outshot again (19-10 Wild) and were on the ropes.

Things did get better. The second period was the last time Dallas would be outshot. By the end of the night the Stars would hold a 53-48 shot advantage, had earned more power plays (5-4), and been more productive on those power plays (2 PPG vs 1 PPG). Let’s go full nerd. When Ryan Hartman sent everyone home, the Stars held an advantage in Corsi (57.58%), Fenwick (57.93%), scoring chances (41-35), and expected goals (4.63 vs. 3.48) per Natural Stat Trick. The Wild created a single extra high-danger chance (15-14), the goal, yeah? Hockey, am I right?

So we should be happy is the point. Stay the course and things will work out. They have to. Were this the regular season, were there 81 more games looming I’d be inclined to agree. Alas this is the playoffs, and the Stars have squandered a home game and a loss. Now they need to win four of the next six. Impossible? No. Certainly not if they manage the same level of energy and application we saw in the third period and overtime but it is harder than winning four of seven. The great non-Pavelski tragedy of game one that the Stars let one go.

Bad periods end post-season runs. Unprepared teams get upset. Goalies, especially ones coming off of .931 sv% / 2.10 GAA splits, stymie the very best of offenses. The Dallas Stars spent the last month of the regular season getting flowers. They almost won the conference, then they almost won the division, then they almost won the first game of their first playoff series. Maybe last season almost would have been okay. This season? Not so much. With one in the L column and Pavelski a major question mark, the Dallas Stars simply cannot afford to punt twenty-minute segments of their post-season. Callous as it might sound, Benn and Co must put aside the drama of Dumba’s hit and win a hockey game.