They just keep winning. The Dallas Stars secured their fifth consecutive win of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 5-2 decision against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night. And while this hot streak can be attributed to overall confidence and resilience, it’s also a testament to a full team effort.
If there was ever a goal that perfectly encapsulated how the Dallas Stars look in the playoffs right now, it would be Esa Lindell‘s goal on the rush in Game 2 against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night.
With time winding down on a penalty kill at the end of the second period, the Avalanche were in the Stars zone trying to find a tying goal. After cycling the puck around, Joonas Donskoi had trouble handling a pass at the top of the right circle and was quickly closed off by a charging Lindell, who got in the shooting lane and poked the puck out to center ice.
After winning a footrace with Donskoi to secure possession near the Stars bench, Lindell could have easily dumped the puck into the Colorado zone and hopped on the Dallas bench after an extended shorthanded shift.
But instead of taking the easy route and changing, Lindell saw an opportunity to apply more pressure to the Avalanche and took it. He and Mattias Janmark entered the Colorado zone on a 2-on-1 with only Samuel Girard between them. But instead of trying to divert to Janmark, Lindell put a shot on goal and crashed the net for the rebound. After two or three more whacks at it, the officials called it a goal and Lindell celebrated.
“I don’t really have the hands to sauce the puck over there,” Lindell said, “so I just thought, ‘I’m gonna shoot it,’ and pre-scout said five-hole is a good spot. So, I shot it there and went for the rebound.”
Many Avalanche players didn’t believe (and still don’t) that the puck fully crossed the line, but after a lengthy review, the call on the ice stood and the Stars took a 4-2 lead.
It was a determined, gritty effort from a defenseman not known for his speed or goal scoring prowess, and it only strengthened the confidence that Dallas already had going into the third period.
“Just pure passion and effort,” Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said of Lindell’s goal. “He just was not going to be denied. It would’ve been easy for him to chip the puck in and change, but he saw an opening and took advantage of it. That was pure determination. Good for him.”
Altogether, the goal didn’t play an overarching role in the outcome of the game. The Stars had already scored what would hold as the game-winner earlier in the period when a puck took an odd deflection off of Alexander Radulov and bounced over Pavel Francouz into the back of the net. In addition, Colorado never found a third or fourth score following two early power play goals to challenge that Lindell goal.
But for the Stars, it meant a lot. It provided them with a two-goal cushion going into the final period and gave them a little extra insurance to work with as they shut down the game. They once again found a way to come back after two early goals by Colorado and take control of the game in a matter of minutes.
“It’s something we’ve gone through all year,” Joe Pavelski said on Monday night. “We’ve had some comeback wins. Obviously, we’re not trying to do that. As a group, we understand that we have a lot of high character in our room and a lot of leadership. There’s no quit in that team. For us to come out and do that in the playoffs is good.”
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And now, they are on the right side of a 2-0 lead in a series that many believed the Avalanche would secure in five or six games.
It’s a big step in the right direction for this Dallas Stars team. They have won five playoff games in a row for the first time since the 1999 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The franchise record (set in ’99) is six straight wins, meaning the 2019-20 Stars could etch their name in the history books on Wednesday night with a win in Game 3.
They are scoring goals by the handful, which has been an unexpected, but welcomed change of pace. After finishing the regular season 26th in scoring with 2.58 goals per game, the Stars are firing on all cylinders with 3.88 goals per game since the first round began on Aug. 11. They have at least five goals in five of their past seven games, including seven unanswered in Game 6 against the Calgary Flames and five unanswered on Monday night.
“Our team is resilient, our team is confident in what we do and in our team play,” Bowness said on Tuesday. “When we bend a little bit like we did last night, we don’t break. You don’t always fight back in this League because it’s too tough of a challenge. Lately, we’ve been able to do that and a lot of it has to do with resilience and the puck finally going in the net for us.”
But another key part of this turnaround and surge for Dallas has been the full team effort. Since Game 1 of the first round, the Stars have been getting an inspired push from their entire roster. Different players are stepping up and playing the role of hero on a nightly basis, each line and pairing is providing pressure and energy, and Anton Khudobin is taking charge at pivotal points in each game.
“We’ve got four lines, can roll four lines, and we have full faith in our four lines,” Bowness said. “The difference would be that our defense is far more involved offensively than we were in November. But the confidence – again, we’ve been a streaky team and we get that – is there that was there in November. We went into every game expecting to win and that’s our attitude right now. We go into every game and we expect to win.”
During a given regular season, there always seems to be a point where a player, line, or unit isn’t performing up to the expected standard or can’t seem to click properly. That often causes shuffling and more adapting.
Throughout the past two weeks, though, the Stars haven’t had to change things. Their lines and pairings have remained the same (except for Mattias Janmark missing Game 6 due to injury) since Game 2 of the first round, as have their special teams units.
Each line has contributed at least one goal and been a difference maker in the offensive and defensive zones at different times. The distribution of minutes among the lines and pairings is becoming more balanced with each passing game as well.
13 different skaters have tallied a goal for the Stars over the past eight games, and all but three regular starters (Andrew Cogliano, Andrej Sekera, Taylor Fedun) have tallied a point so far. The lines are rolling with fluidity and giving Dallas a multifaceted attack, making them all the more dangerous.
On Monday night, their power play clicked at a critical time and helped them tie the game after falling into an early hole. Moments later, their penalty kill held the line and kept Colorado off the scoreboard during an extended 5-on-3.
“That’s the moment when we can get ourselves back in the game,” Pavelski said about the 5-on-3 opportunity. “We went out, executed, and scored a goal. The next unit came out and scored another one. It was definitely a little momentum shift and then we go out there and kill a 5-on-3. It was huge and gave us some confidence for sure.”
And when the Stars have needed Anton Khudobin (as they did in the first 20 minutes of Game 2) to keep them steady and competitive, he’s followed through.
“I think Dobby was a big part of that,” Pavelski said of Khudobin’s early managing of the game. “He made some good saves. We knew that was one of their better pushes that they were gonna have. When they push, sometimes you have to hold on at times.
“We come out of that period down by one and we had to get our game going. We had to get emotionally involved and physically involved. They came out and established their game early. It was up to us to kind of catch up, but Dobby did a good job of buying us some extra time to not let this game get out of hand.”
“We knew they were going to come out with everything they had and they’ve got a lot of firepower on that team,” Bowness said. “That’s a great hockey club over there. When that happens, your goaltender has to give you a chance to get your legs and get your game going. Dobby did that and he was fantastic tonight, so give him a lot of credit.”
Finally, when the Stars take a lead into the third period and switch to playing “Dallas Stars hockey”, every player is visibly buying in and helping shut down the game.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Khudobin said of the Stars’ third period efforts. “It’s really great. I wouldn’t say I had my rest, but at the same time, when guys stick together, blocking the shots, playing the right way, not allowing them to cross our blue line and stuff like that, it’s always great. It’s a team effort.”
When each player in the starting lineup has played an influential role at least once in the past eight games, things are going well. Whether it’s scoring goals, making plays, blocking shots, getting physical, or chipping in on special teams, the Stars are getting a full buy-in across the board. It’s helping generate both confidence and determination as they continue their push through the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But even with the full team push and continued resilience, the Stars know that they have a ways to go. The focus remains on staying in the moment and taking it one game at a time as Game 3 approaches on Wednesday night.
“Until you can put a team away, you just can’t feel comfortable,” Pavelski said. “You’ve got to play this game on your toes, especially this time of year. That’s a good team. We’ve done our job so far, but there’s a ways to go. We’ll catch our breath, see where we can improve in certain areas, and we’ll come back at them.”