The playoffs are complicated. Each series is its own story, and each game is its own chapter encompassing a dozen moments and plot points. But the playoffs can also be simple. Each of those moments, those plot points, falls into one of two buckets: the things we observe and the emotions they inspire within us. That’s what we’re here to talk about.
What We Saw
We told you in so many words, for better or worse. The Calgary Flames wasted zero time asserting themselves as the favorites to not only win this series but to win the Cup. The top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk set the tone with offensive pressure, physicality, and defense via good offense. Even with two power plays, which Calgary scouted well through aggressive pressure on the zone entries and poorly timed sequencing from the Stars, Dallas ended the opening frame getting outshot nine to one and out-attempted 17 to five.
The opening frame ended with a UFC match that took John Klingberg and Rasmus Andersson out for the game due to the second altercation rule. But whatever rush of adrenaline both teams felt like they got from the fracas didn’t show up on the ice. Five penalties were called in the second period compared to the 11 in the first, resulting in a game with little rhythm. Dallas outshot Calgary six to four in the second frame, which felt like twice the amount that was actually generated. It was the perfect period for Dallas: slow the game down and then slow it down some more, anything to prevent a one-goal lead from becoming two.
Jake Oettinger was stellar, which is a great sign. The power play had just one high-danger chance with 10 minutes of power play time, which is a bad sign. Bowness stuck with his vision, which was tight hockey, and Calgary scored only one goal, which is a great sign. At times it looked like Dallas was headed toward one of those “outplayed the entire game only to possibly steal one” games. But Darryl Sutter ignored the matchup game, rolled all four lines, and one goal was all they needed. Another bad sign. All in all, it was a strange game with fleeting reflections of opposing philosophies, not just in terms of the players but in organizational vision.
If the goal is to simply endure, the Stars proved they could do that. Jake Oettinger was near perfect through two periods, and Dallas didn’t break despite the parade of penalties disrupting the flow of the game. But what happens when the breaks don’t come? What happens if Oettinger gets one wrong bounce? What are you building on?
Mike Heika said on the Podman Rush podcast that this playoff series will be what defines the team’s vision. If they say they’re built for the playoffs—prove it. They’re still in it, but they need a recipe for asserting themselves. Calgary only needed to do that for one period. Dallas needed three just to dream of tying it. —David Castillo
What It Felt Like
Foreign yet familiar—a bizarre, roundabout way to remind us of many things we already knew about these Stars.
The first two-thirds of Tuesday’s defeat were like few playoff games you’ve ever seen and none you enjoyed. The first period ended with back-to-back brawls. The second intermission went over time on account of prolonged ice maintenance. In between was 40 minutes of comically overregulated hockey. By the end of the second period, the teams had combined for 10 total power plays but just 34 shots.
It was choppy and inefficient, which made for bad aesthetics—and, as a result, played right into the hands of a Dallas team that leads with gumption far more than grace. The tight whistle sapped the energy from the Scotiabank Saddledome and likely forced Calgary, the bigger team of the two, to lower the volume a tad on the physicality. Even when the game finally opened up in the third period and the crowd roared back to life, the stage was set for the Stars, who ranked second in the NHL with 11 third-period comeback wins in the regular season, to uncork another bit of late-game magic and steal a vital road win.
They couldn’t. Dallas, so often blessed with strong goaltending this time of year, received plenty of it from the 23-year-old Oettinger, the youngest netminder ever to start a game for the franchise. But it mostly served to buy time for an attack that failed to pay it off. The Stars, who marched into Calgary with the worst goal differential of any playoff team, were impotent on the power play: rarely threatening Jacob Markstrom in five opportunities and failing to muster a single shot on goal over the first two. The fight is there; if you don’t believe me, just replay every cyclone of a Michael Raffl shift or skim John Klingberg’s postgame diatribe about Calgary counterpart Rasmus Andersson. But mettle only counts for so much against a team with this many advantages.
The conditions were there for Dallas to put Calgary on the back foot in this series, yet all the Flames had to do was rip one shot from the face-off circle to call it a night. It’s difficult to imagine them getting more favorable conditions in Game 2. —Mike Piellucci