No amount of words or stats can accurately encapsulate the sheer competitive will and talent that Stars goalie Jake Oettinger showed in the series and the Game 7, 3-2 overtime loss Sunday night against the Calgary Flames.
It was obvious to anyone that tuned in from the first minute of Game 1 to the final shot of Game 7 that Oettinger was the best player on the ice for either team and as the final minutes of overtime ticked off the clock, it seemed as if the Flames weren’t ever going to solve Oettinger.
It took the perfect shot under the crossbar from Calgary’s top forward Johnny Gaudreau with 4:51 left in overtime to beat Oettinger, who had just come up with a mesmerizing series of consecutive saves a few shifts before the final goal.
Oettinger dropped jaws left and right in the series with unimaginable stop after unimaginable stop and his 64 saves were a franchise record for most saves in a Game 7.
After the lengthy series came to an end, it was clear the second-seeded Calgary Flames had more offensive bullets in the gun, yet it was Oettinger that seemed impenetrable. Oettinger effectively neutered the Flames’ sixth-ranked offense and had the entire roster reeling from the drop of the puck in Game 1.
Look at how much respect Flames goalie and Vezina Trophy finalist Jacob Markstrom had for Oettinger after the game.
Oettinger couldn’t have played any better against the Flames. His .954 save percentage was second in NHL history for a series behind former Star Tim Thomas’ .967 save percentage in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
Furthermore, Oettinger is now second in NHL history for most saves in a Game 7.
Add on the fact that Oettinger put the team on his shoulders after the Stars were forced to play without Roope Hintz and Luke Glendening for the game and without Radek Faksa for third period and overtime. The Stars gave every ounce of sweat they had after the entire lineup construction was essentially decimated and rearranged in the most important game of the season.
Oettinger did everything but win the game, which is a shame. He deserved better, but sometimes that’s how the game of hockey goes. The best team doesn’t always win and in this case, the best player doesn’t always win.
Stars head coach Rick Bowness perhaps summarized it best when looking at just how integral Oettinger is to the Stars’ future.
“In terms of us, we have a franchise goalie,” Bowness said in a post-game interview on Bally Sports Southwest. “There’s no question. You go into overtime with Jake and you know it’s going to take a perfect shot to beat him and it was a perfect shot. Johnny [Gaudreau] made a great shot right under the bar. You can’t do anything about that, but Jake Oettinger is a franchise goalie and the good news is he’ll keep getting better.
“He’s a young guy. This is his first run through of the playoffs. He’s going to gain from this experience and the Dallas Stars are in good shape for a long time with Jake.”
Not only did Oettinger make Stars’ history with his heroic performance, but he had the Flames’ best players constantly perplexed the entire series.
Looking to the future
It can be tough after a difficult loss to see the bright side, but it is downright scary to think that Oettinger probably still has another gear he can hit. He’s only 23 years old and surely has areas of his game he knows he can improve.
He hasn’t even played an entire season with the Stars. Think about that. Oettinger went 30-15-1 in the regular season with a .914 save percentage and 2.42 goals-against average. Those aren’t franchise records by any means, but it’s also crystal clear his arrow is pointed straight to the sky and his reliability and stability were some of the chief reasons the Stars returned to the postseason.
Dallas began the season with four goalies in Anton Khudobin, Brayden Holtby, Ben Bishop and Oettinger, who started the season with the Texas Stars in the American Hockey League.
Oettinger admirably took the “demotion” to the AHL as a challenge. He didn’t pout. He didn’t clamor for NHL playing time. He crafted his game and grabbed ahold of the opportunity of a lifetime.
The experience that Oettinger gained in the regular season, the playoffs and in a heart-pounding Game 7 can not be quantified.
It can only help Oettinger flourish even more than he already has. It’s abundantly evident the passion and fire burning inside him to succeed will assuredly propel him and the Stars to more success.
His mixture of dexterity and drive are remarkable at his age and it was painfully apparent after the game just how much the loss hurt.
“Obviously it’s really sad,” Oettinger said in a post-game interview on Bally Sports Southwest. “Some of those guys you don’t know if you’re going to play with them again obviously. It’s you know, a really tough pill to swallow. We have such a good group of guys in there and such a great coaching staff and management and everything. It’s just a great place to be.”
“You know, it feels like a family in there. Obviously with the amount of turnover, in pro hockey and stuff it’s bittersweet obviously…You have to enjoy it while you can. It seems like every year flies by and it never ends when you want to unless you win the [Stanley] Cup, so this one’s going to hurt for a long time.”
It will undoubtedly be a changing of the guard for the Stars with contract extensions for Jason Robertson, Hintz and of course Oettinger on the horizon. Longtime defenseman John Klingberg will likely be too costly for the Stars to retain and the contract of 2020 Winter Classic hero Alexander Radulov is coming off the books.
Dallas will be forced to look for more scoring next season as the Stars’ offense was ranked 21st in the NHL at 2.84 goals per game.
More conversations will be had about where the team needs to improve and the Stars will have to dance around a problematic salary cap situation to do so.
Even more conversations will be had about the future of head coach Rick Bowness, for better or worse.
But you can without hesitation write down in thick, red ink on the lineup card that Jake Oettinger will be the starter in net next season.
He is the primary reason, along with the rest of the 2017 draft class of Heiskanen and Robertson, to have optimism about the future of this team that it can not only just make the playoffs, but contend for a Stanley Cup for many years to come.
The future isn’t just bright for Oettinger anymore. It’s blinding.