In the aftermath of All-Star season – every time it ends it won’t be this week – they will be remembered for their unwavering arrogance in the face of adversity, an enviable trait that means this Dallas team is screaming. the thought of three-goal deficits, a sluggish start to the season, an abrupt change of coach, pointless round robin games earlier this month.
Defeating the Flames with seven unanswered goals in a 7-3 loss in Game 6 Thursday night, the Stars eliminated Calgary in the first round and set a second round date with the Avalanche. They won a playoff series in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-01.
They did it the only way this All-Star team would do it: the hard way, throwing them through the grill of trouble and playing so well that a bad stretch is forgotten, replaced by memories of exhilaration and of victory.
They did it with their best player (Miro Heiskanen) posting a four-point night, and they did it with their top scorer (Denis Gurianov) submitting a historic performance of four goals and an assist. They did so with Anton Khudobin stopping the last 32 shots he faced.
Going into Game 6 on Thursday, the Stars knew they were the best team in their series against the Flames. Calgary had won two games surviving on a lean diet of Cam Talbot’s play and fortuitous shorthanded goals. Taking a 3-2 lead over the Flames in the series, the Stars forced a thinned Flames team to run on the vapors of Talbot’s performance in Game 3 to win twice.
In the opening 6:34 of the first period, it looked like Saturday’s Game 7 was just around the corner – the NHL even announced that the game would be at 7 p.m. and air on NBC, if necessary. The Flames took a 3-0 lead with three goals in less than three minutes.
Before the Stars even recorded a shot on goal, the Flames had punctured Anton Khudobin three times. Calgary won the first eight shots of the game. The Flames were the team that needed a win to extend their season and forced the Stars to regroup early with a Rick Bowness timeout.
“The mood was not good,” said Joe Pavelski. “We hadn’t played our game yet. It was one of those times where I think everyone figured out they hadn’t played our game, we see their best game and the pucks explode of our sticks at that time. We are in a hole. It was a good time out to catch our breath, let’s try to get back to our game.
Bowness added: “It was just a mess to begin with. There comes a point where, ‘Okay, that’s enough. We need the next goal. We get the next goal, we’re back in the game. Fortunately, this is what happened. It takes a special player like Miro to step up and “Okay, we need a goal? I’ll jump in here and introduce myself.
Then the targets started – first like a trickle, then like a wave, finally like a tsunami.
Heiskanen started off with a power play goal that stopped Calgary’s momentum in the first period. Gurianov scored in the first minute of the second period, and less than three minutes later to chase Talbot to the bench. Radek Faksa gave the Stars the lead with a power play goal. Joe Pavelski took a rebound. Gurianov finished the second period with a goal out of the race, then tormented the Flames once again in the third period with a rebound goal.
The scoring summary for Dallas resembled the Flames’ end-of-season credits: “Eliminated Embarrassingly,” starring Heiskanen, Gurianov and Pavelski, directed by Bowness and produced by Jim Nill.
The Stars punctuated an upside down streak with an eventful game, demoralizing the Flames into a potential teardown and rebuild during the offseason after another playoff meltdown. Calgary probably felt they could have won Game 2 (Jamie Oleksiak’s last-minute winner) and Game 4 (Pavelski’s tying goal with 11.9 seconds left and Alexander Radulov’s winner in overtime) . The Stars probably felt they should have ended the streak two days ago in five games.
Thursday’s second period brought back memories of the marathon season now in its 12th month.
Remember the frustration after another loss in Pittsburgh in October? Remember the 3-0 deficit against Minnesota in October, when the Stars’ season hovered between epic failure and the road to redemption? Do you remember the change of coach mid-season? Remember the sluggish performance in Florida? Do you remember the Winter Classic? The return to Montreal? The sick trainer in Saint-Louis? The four-month period to be the best team in the world? The worst two weeks in March?
Add Game 6 to the tradition of the 2019-20 Stars, suppliers of unwavering confidence.
“There have been some crazy moments throughout the year,” Pavelski said. “You walk forward and you play.”
Thanks to Thursday’s wild victory, the Stars will do both: move forward and play.