EDMONTON — Who are these Dallas Stars, a team that doesn’t care who scores first, or who gets all the shots on net?
The Corsi, the Fenwick, the expected whatevers…
What does it say that you can chase the spread sheet the way the Stars do, and still become the Western Conference champions, in a tidy five-game series win over the Vegas Golden Knights?
“It says analytics are overrated,” said centre Tyler Seguin, a $9.85-million microcosm of what fuels the Stars, as the team’s highest paid player with just two playoff goals who has still managed to be a valuable contributor.
“It just says we find ways. We don’t care,” he continued. “Against Colorado it was kind of a goal-scoring match. This series was kind of more our style — 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, whatever it may be match. Whatever the game brings to us, it’s how we’re going to play. We just find ways to get the job done.”
The latest recipe was penned in a series-closing, 3-2 overtime victory in which the Stars trailed Vegas 2-0 after Reilly Smith blew a wrist shot past Anton Khudobin just 15 seconds into the third period. In a Game 5, with the favoured Golden Knights flexing their muscles, it seemed inevitable that Dallas would have to come back again for their shot at the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.
There was just too much hockey team on that Vegas bench to cough up a 2-0 lead in the third period of an elimination game, wasn’t there?
Well, so we may have thought.
“Listen, you’re looking at shots against. We’re looking at chances against,” said Dallas head coach Rick Bowness. “Five-on-five, we were fine the whole series. They took a lot of outside shots? We’ll give them that.”
And as the third period continued, Dallas began to hold the play. Finally, Jamie Benn scored just before the halfway point. Then the upstart Joel Kiviranta roofed one from in tight, the first of two powerplay goals by Dallas’ second unit.
Somehow, the Stars dragged this one into overtime, where their relentless pressure caused Zach Whitecloud to chip a puck over the glass. And on the ensuing powerplay, with Vegas centre Paul Stastny having broken his stick, the young Russian stud Denis Gurianov one-timed a laser past Robin Lehner, winning the series and sending Dallas to its first Stanley Cup Final since the Year 2000.
“It’s a feeling you can’t describe,” Bowness said. “Words can’t describe the emotion that comes through. Any time you get here, people are paying an awful price. You need to be rewarded.
“You only get so many cracks at going to the Stanley Cup Final. You’ve got to take advantage of it. Kivi, is the future of the team. Denis, big overtime winner, future of the team. Roope [Hintz]… We’ve got a veteran group, but you also need your younger players to step up.”
During seven weeks in the bubble, the Brandon-born Whitecloud had emerged as an up-and-coming young player. But in the eighth week his Skate of Shame was epic, going from the penalty box to the handshake line in what must have felt like the worst moments of his hockey life.
“I feel terrible for the kid,” said his head coach, Peter DeBoer. “It’s such a [crappy] penalty to begin with. For that type of penalty to decide a game just doesn’t make sense to me. For me he has nothing to hang his head about. He played his ass off and played big and played heavy. He has a bright future ahead of him and has nothing to be ashamed of.”
That’s down the road. The immediate future for the Stars likely involves a meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
You can be sure the Lightning — assuming they finish off the New York Islanders — will walk into that series a heavy favourites. And they’ll score some goals — though likely less than they expect — but by the third period they’ll look up at the score clock and see a game very much in the balance, with the Stars in their rearview mirror and gaining ground.
Because that’s the way the Stars play it. It’s the M.O.
“We always know it might take the whole game. There’s no panic,” said Seguin, whose Stars trailed Calgary by a 3-0 score early in what would end up being the Flames final game here in Edmonton, a 7-3 loss. “There’s composure, just knowing that we’re going to get the job done. We have key goals, big moments… Everything is falling in our favour right now.
“Belief. Our depth,” he said. “We always seem to rise to the occasion.”