In a game that they could have and probably should have won on home ice, the Dallas Stars lost 3-2 at the hands of the Nashville Predators. And while they will now play from behind in the series, they must quickly forget about what could’ve been on Monday night if they want to keep moving forward.
The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs have treated the Dallas Stars to an adventurous rollercoaster through the first three games of their opening round series. And after the rollercoaster that they endured through 82 games in the 2018-19 regular season, it seems only fitting that the ride continues through the postseason.
And continue it has. Following some final juggling of the standings on the final day of the season, the Stars clinched the first wild card spot with a 3-0 win over the Minnesota Wild. Around the same time that they clinched, the Nashville Predators secured the Central division title, setting themselves up to meet Dallas in round one.
When the series kicked off last Wednesday night in Nashville, there was no telling where it might go. Two defensive-based teams with strong goaltending that split their regular season series would now duke it out in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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Game one ended up providing a nice high for the Dallas Stars. Following a shaky start and brief adjustment period to the bright lights and loud Nashville crowd, the Stars countered from a 1-0 deficit and eventually built a 3-1 lead before securing the 3-2 win. Miro Heiskanen pieced together an outstanding playoff debut along with the other young skaters on the roster, while Ben Bishop shut the door with a commendable performance in the crease. It was a full-team effort from Dallas and had the coaster rattling upwards towards the sky.
Three nights later, however, things changed. Fresh off of gaining their early lead in the series, the Stars looked as though they had taken a step back in terms of energy, commitment, and effort. While they still had some bright moments and clawed their way through regulation, the Predators simply looked like the more determined (and desperate) team. Nashville wiped out an early Dallas lead in the second period, leaving the Stars to rely heavily on Bishop and hang on until overtime, where they eventually lost 2-1. The coaster hit a peak and immediately began barreling back towards the ground.
And then we have Monday night’s game three.
Playoff hockey returned to Dallas for the first time in almost three years and had Dallas Stars fans out in full support. The American Airlines Center boasted a sold-out crowd of 18,532 bodies clad primarily in Victory Green and white, many of which were looking for a Stars win to take advantage of home ice and reestablish the series lead.
But instead of going up or down, the rollercoaster hit an unexpected corkscrew in game three. That’s because while the Dallas Stars did a lot of things right and seemed to earn a victory, they fell just short in a 3-2 defeat.
After a slow start to the opening period, the Stars bounced back in the final 10 minutes and began pressing. The crowd came alive as the period went along and everything seemed to be setting up for a strong surge from Dallas.
Instead, it was Nashville that drew first blood early in the second period when Rocco Grimaldi scored. Then came a 5-on-3 power play opportunity for 1:29 that the Stars somehow couldn’t find a way to capitalize on. A few minutes after that, Filip Forsberg scored on a breakout to make it 2-0 and silence the AAC.
The game was far from over, though. It took Mats Zuccarello less than three minutes to cut the deficit in half using a strong rush up the ice and into the Nashville zone that ended in a goal. The period ended with Dallas fans reengaged and eager to see what the third period had in store.
With 11:45 remaining in the final frame, they got what they wanted. A furious rush from the team’s top trio finished with Alexander Radulov making a swift play on the puck and kicking it to Jamie Benn, who fed it in front of the net to an awaiting Tyler Seguin, who cashed in to tie the game at 2-2. As the fans went into an uproar, the stage once again seemed set for the Dallas Stars to cap off an impressive comeback and post a big win on home ice.
But then, it happened. While spinning around to make a play in the offensive zone, Mikael Granlund flung a careless shot towards the net. That’s when Ben Bishop, who had been utterly brilliant in the first two games of the series, deflected the puck off of his blocker and into the net. Had he left the puck alone, the shot would have gone wide. Had he gotten a better angle on it, he would’ve been able to get enough to force the puck away from the net.
Instead, the shot found the back of the net and became the game-winner in a 3-2 Nashville victory.
And just like that, the Predators own a 2-1 lead in the series.
But wait. It shouldn’t have happened like that, right? After all, the Stars outplayed their opponent in just about every aspect of the game. They outshot them 42-28, owned a 57.1 percent win rate in the face-off dot, outhit them 42-23, and had less giveaways and more takeaways. They controlled possession for the majority of the final 50 minutes and looked like a team destined for a big win in front of its home crowd.
That didn’t happen. Maybe you blame Ben Bishop, who gave up a handful of goals that should’ve been saves. Maybe you blame the power play for once again failing to convert, despite four chances and a 5-on-3 opportunity. Maybe you blame Pekka Rinne for deciding to have his best game against Dallas this season on Monday night by stopping 40-42. Or maybe you blame all of it.
Let’s face the facts, though. The Dallas Stars were the better team and lost. Had Bishop played like his usual self, they would have won. Had the power play scored even one time, they still probably would have pulled through with a win. But the corkscrew took control.
“I think, after the first initial eight minutes, the last 52 minutes we played really good hockey. And that was a lot of fun to be a part of. Our crowd was awesome and the energy in the building, I thought our building was the loudest building I’ve been in all year. That was awesome to be a part of and our players played a hell of a game.” – Jim Montgomery after game three
So, how does a hockey team go about digesting it? Well, simply put, they have to forget about it and move on.
“You just have to put it behind you, play another game, and don’t change anything,” said Stars goaltender Ben Bishop, who will get the start in game four. “It’s a long season. Some nights there are unfortunate bounces and some nights you get lucky. It doesn’t change anything. It’s the same routine night in and night out.”
“We stay patient with it and we stay calm,” added Stars forward Tyler Seguin. “We’re really a composed group here and we’ve learned that over time this year. We’ve faced lots of adversity and lots of ups and downs. It’s going to be a long series like I said.”
In other words, don’t panic. That’s been the message for much of this year in the Dallas locker room, and it’s worked so far. It’s a useful strategy that should always be remembered when times get tough, unfortunate, or confusing.
But can that still be applied in the playoffs when every game means more than the last? Can it still be applied when a team’s “backbone” becomes one of their primary downfalls? Can they still look to this strategy when they drop their first home playoff game and forfeit the series lead?
Well, it will have to.
Now that the Stars are behind in the count for the first time in this series, it provides them with a new sense of adversity. The corkscrew tried to derail them entirely using a confusing and unforeseen finish. And now, they will have to play catch up in a huge game four at the AAC.
But that’s not necessarily a reason to panic. It’s just another test to conquer in a season full of setbacks and challenges.
“We deserved better tonight. We played hard. We’re going to regroup and get ready for a game in a couple of days.” – Tyler Seguin
“You never get too high and never get too low,” said Stars coach Jim Montgomery about the approach going into game four. “It’s 2-1. I think we’ve been the better team in two out of three games. Keep playing like that and usually the hockey gods get back on your side.”
He’s right. The Stars have earned two wins in this series and only been granted one. That may seem unfair and illogical, but that’s playoff hockey. Take a look at the Tampa Bay Lightning right now. Once considered a heavy favorite to win the Stanley Cup after tying the NHL record for most wins in a season, they are in a 3-0 hole in the opening round against a Columbus Blue Jackets team that barely made their way into the playoffs.
Sometimes, that’s how playoff hockey goes. And when it does go like that, it can affect the mentality of the team if they don’t stay committed and dedicated to their process and path.
The Stars didn’t get the result they expected on Monday night. But that’s not a knockout blow. They played a good brand of hockey and, if they can continue putting forth that intensity and effort, they should have no trouble with evening this series up and doing even more damage. Only one win separates them from even.
“You just have to get over it,” Bishop noted.
And so, the Dallas Stars stare down a critical game four on Wednesday night. They will need a certain sense of desperation and energy back in their game if they want to fend off a Predators team boasting newfound confidence. They can access that from their strong push in game three.
“We did a lot of good things tonight,” Bishop said following game three. “I thought we played well and we had a chance to win. Obviously, you’d like to make that save and get the 2-1 win there, but it didn’t happen. That’s why it’s a seven-game series, and we’ll bounce back in game four.”
Can the Stars benefit from a short-term memory while also taking the high points out of a weird loss on Monday night? Will Bishop bounce back? Can they get up, dust themselves off, and power through to a big win on Wednesday?
“Playoffs are hard and that’s why we love it,” Seguin pointed out. “It’s a hard game out there. You don’t get too high, don’t get too low, and move on here. We’ve got a long series to go.”
If Monday’s game told us anything, though, it’s that this Dallas Stars team knows how to be resilient and relentless, no matter how tough the going may get.
Now it’s time for the tough to get going.