It’s now a best-of-three between the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames in their first-round series of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. And through the past few games, the Stars have proven to be the better team. A wild win in Game 4 could be just what they needed to shift the momentum into their corner for Game 5.
Momentum is a strange thing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Dallas Stars know that.
For starters, it cannot be measured. There is no specific statistic that declares which team owns the momentum during a series. It’s also possible to own the “momentum” while trailing in a game or even in a series. That’s where the term “puck luck” comes into play.
Finally, it’s a force that can swing so quickly in terms of support. From game-to-game, period-to-period, or shift-to-shift, momentum can change between teams. It can both flip-flop on a regular basis, or remain consistent on one side throughout a given series.
It’s an odd element, but one that a team needs if they have any hope in advancing in the playoffs. It can be generated from a player, a line, a unit, or even in a big moment during a game.
On Sunday afternoon, the Stars had that big moment.
With 2:29 remaining in the third period, the Dallas Stars found themselves in a potentially deflating and series-altering situation. After a wacky 57 minutes that included breaking an 11-game streak of giving up the first goal, getting two goals from their top free agent signing from the summer of 2019 in Joe Pavelski, tallying and giving up two power-play goals, and sacrificing a shorthanded goal for the third straight game that was holding as the game-winner, Jason Dickinson finally broke through after a frantic third period push to tie the game on a rebound chance.
The Stars had tied a must-win game at 4-4 and seemed to be in control at one of the most important moments of the contest. But following a challenge for goaltender interference by the Calgary Flames, the officials determined that Corey Perry had interfered with Cam Talbot just enough to negate the goal.
As a result, Dallas was once again faced with a bitter possibility. They were 2:29 away from being on the wrong side of a 3-1 deficit in their first-round series against the Flames. To make matters more complicated, they had by and large been the better team in three straight games and were still on the brink of a 1-2 record over the span.
SEND IN ALL VIRTUAL HATS 🎩🎩🎩
— FOX Sports Southwest (@FOXSportsSW) August 16, 2020
That’s when Joe Pavelski took control. Pavelski, who was coming off of one of his more disappointing seasons of the past decade with 14 goals and 31 points, told Rick Bowness that he was feeling it on Sunday afternoon. That feeling paid off in a big way.
With 11.9 seconds left and a two-minute assault at 6-on-5, the veteran forward cleaned up a rebound in front of the net with a backhand shot that found its way past Talbot. The veteran secured his first playoff hat trick and helped the Stars force overtime in the process.
“Pavs is another veteran voice and a leader,” Dickinson said about Pavelski on Sunday. “Guys can lean on him. He’s been around for a while. He knows the ins and outs and these are the games he lives for. I think he elevates for these kinds of moments and you hear him on the bench. He wants to be out there, he wants to make big plays, and he wants to have an impact.”
That display of resilience and determination did two things in this series. One, it dealt a gut punch to the Flames, who were 12 seconds away from a stranglehold on the series and significant spike in momentum. On the other hand, it opened the door for the Stars to rally in not only the game, but also the series.
“There was never a sense that we weren’t going to win once we got to overtime. A couple of big plays there and we were on the right side tonight.” – Joe Pavelski following Game 4
And that’s why the Dallas Stars now must find a way to capitalize on Tuesday afternoon in Game 5 (4:30 p.m. CT; FSSW, NBCSN).
The final few minutes of Sunday’s game seemed to provide the needed shift in momentum for Dallas. The advanced statistics have tilted heavily in their favor through the past three games. While it didn’t pay off in Friday’s Game 3 loss, it helped them come through with an important Game 4 win on Sunday. The series now sits at a best-of-three and it feels as though Dallas has the momentum.
More from Blackout Dallas
Now, there are still some things that can be patched up and polished in the Stars’ game. The shorthanded goals against have to be eliminated entirely. Missing open nets and prime scoring chances is still holding this team back from winning games by multiple goals. The defense and goaltending are a bit looser than usual (Dallas has the third-worst goals against per games played since the start of the first round with a 3.25).
The power play could always put a few more goals away, especially when considering how many chances the Stars are getting on the man advantage (17 through the first four games). And both Andrej Sekera and Taylor Fedun could really use a bounce-back game.
But if the Stars can act on the momentum gained from Game 4 and the fact that they have been the better team for the majority of the series, Game 5 could prove to be a backbreaker in the series.
“Our belief, our confidence, our depth, and our trust in our whole team,” Tyler Seguin said about the Dallas Stars’ resiliency on Sunday. “It might take a full 60 minutes or and change. That’s just our identity. We’re a team that is good defensively and that’s where we get our chances offensively. We’ll wait until the last second if that’s what it takes to do it. There’s a lot of confidence and a lot of belief in that locker room.”
Dallas has a newfound sense of confidence after a wild comeback. Their veteran leaders are stepping up at critical moments in the game and experience is shining through. Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg are being difference-makers on a nightly basis. Anton Khudobin is making timely saves when they need them and helping keep the Stars in games.
The momentum seems to be on their side. But, as we saw in Game 4, it can sway entirely at any moment in a series. That’s what makes Game 5 so important for both clubs. The winner receives a boost in confidence going into the potential clincher on Thursday, while the loser has to win two games in a row, something neither team has achieved yet in this series.
The Dallas Stars seem to be rolling in the right direction after some promising performances and efforts. But at this point in a series, the past games can’t be on the radar. It’s all about which team wants it more and who can make the extra play.
It’s all about finding the momentum and grabbing it before the opponent does.
“The one thing you preach in the playoffs as a coach is to stay in the moment,” Bowness said on Sunday. “There’s ebbs and flows and a lot of things that are out of your control, and one of the things you preach is control what you can control. Emotion swings are left, right, and center during the playoffs. If you get your emotions under control, you’re going to flow with them. Right now, we try to stay right in the moment.”