The national pundits didn’t have high hopes for the Dallas Stars in their first-round playoff matchup against the Calgary Flames. They weren’t sure if the Stars’ budding superstar goalie Jake Oettinger was ready for the playoff stage.
Many reporters also pointed toward Calgary’s deeper lineup of scorers, including their trio of 40-goal scorers. They also criticized the Stars’ negative goal differential and were quick to say that Dallas was lucky to make the playoffs.
On Tuesday, May 3, Oettinger put an emphatic end to those inexperienced concerns despite the 1-0 loss. The 23-year-old Oettinger not only held his own between the pipes in his first playoff start but a serious case could be made that he was the best player on the ice for either team.
Oettinger does have playoff experience as he mopped up for Anton Khudobin twice in the Stars’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020. Oettinger relieved Khudobin in a 3-0 loss to Vegas in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals and again in the Stars’ 5-2 loss in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lighting.
However, neither of those games provided an intense atmosphere such as the one at Scotiabank Saddledome. Oettinger mentioned after the game he knew the game was going to be intense.
“I’ve been to playoff games as a fan and I kind of knew the intensity, but when you’re in between the pipes, it’s a whole different ball game,” Oettinger said in a post-game interview on Bally Sports Southwest. “It’s a dream come true to be a starting goalie in the playoffs here and I’m just going to try to keep giving my team a chance to win.”
Oettinger made 25-of-26 saves with the only goal allowed to Elias Lindholm on a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play on the Flames’ first power play of the game.
The Flames’ three best players combined for the goal as Lindholm won the faceoff back to Johnny Gaudreau, who quickly passed to Matthew Tkachuk and he sent his pass to Lindholm for the one-timer from the right face-off dot.
Has Oettinger stopped these types of goals in the past? Absolutely. But Lindholm and the Flames deserve full marks for the goal as the puck was on net before Oettinger had time to properly place his glove.
“All three of them do different stuff very well and it’s going to be key for us to continue to shut them down,” Oettinger said. “I didn’t think they had a lot tonight. I thought we did a good job of minimizing what they had and we need to keep doing that if we want to have success.”
Sure, Dallas was dominated in the first period and the Stars didn’t do him any favors as they allowed the Flames the first nine shots on net.
For the rest of the game, Oettinger looked unfazed by the moment and as the game progressed, it was clear that he was in a zone.
It’s frustrating to think about how Oettinger would have been viewed if the Stars could have managed a little scoring support, but if this trend of sturdiness continues, Dallas has an excellent chance to steal the series from the Pacific Division champs.
Oettinger read the puck well throughout the night, including the Flames’ constant shots from the point and some deflections along the way.
Oettinger was also extremely active playing the puck which at times neutralized the Flames’ forecheck and he didn’t do too much with the puck either — see Mike Smith’s blunder that cost the Edmonton Oilers their Game 1 against the Los Angeles Kings.
After yielding the first power-play goal, Oettinger and the Stars shut down the Flames’ 10th-ranked power play the rest of the night, but that didn’t come as easy as Oettinger made it look.
Oettinger was aggressive coming out on shots, made patient saves on odd-man rushes including a key save on Andrew Mangiapane on a 2-on-1 in the second period.
Oettinger delivered crucial pad saves on Flames’ shots from the slot, including one by Lindholm on the Flames’ 5-on-3 opportunity late in the second frame.
Tkachuk tested Oettinger with a rush up the ice in the first minute of the third period and again, Oettinger was up to the task.
Oettinger also had terrific rebound control throughout the game and came up with important, consecutive saves on Oliver Kylington and Chris Tanev when the rebound did get away from him in the third.
For Oettinger to come into the hostile Calgary atmosphere and play the way he did, the optimism for the Stars’ chances has to be greater than they were headed into Game 1.
Moreover, it is clear the Stars have their goalie of the future and that can be head-scratching to think about if you remember that he began the season in the minors with the Texas Stars. Bowness mentioned during the postgame conference he was proud of the way he did in his first playoff start.
“He was outstanding [in] his first playoff start,” Stars head coach Rick Bowness said in a post-game interview on Bally Sports Southwest. “People forget that he started the year in the minors. We had [Ben] Bishop. We had [Brayden] Holtby. We had [Anton] Khudobin. None of those guys are around. Now we’re going with Jake. That’s his first NHL [playoff] start in a very tough rink against a very good team. He did very well. I’m very happy for him. Very proud.”
In 48 games played this season, Oettinger posted a record of 30-15-1 with a career-high save percentage of .914 and career-best goals against average of 2.53.
Oettinger finished Game 1 against the Flames with a .962 save percentage.
If the Stars can find their offense, which has been their primary issue most of the season, then they have a great shot at making this series difficult on the Flames.
In 2020 when the Stars defeated the Flames 4-2 in the first round, the Flames took Game 1 by the score of 3-2. Dallas trailed that series 2-1 before rattling off three wins to close out the series.
Calgary is decidedly better in goal with Jacob Markström at the helm and this series could turn into a goalie battle, but as long as Oettinger is playing the way he did most of the season, the future is bright not just for this series, but for many playoff series to come.
Dallas is in great hands with Jake Oettinger.