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Don’t Read Too Much Into the Stars’ Loss to the Panthers

We love storylines, but this was about something far simpler.
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Panthers center Sam Bennett celebrates after scoring the game tying goal. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It was announced Tuesday that the Stars and the Florida Panthers would meet in one of the NHL’s marquee events next season, flying to Finland for a pair of games in Tampere as part of the NHL Global Series. There was also legitimate hype the teams would meet again this season, perhaps in the Stanley Cup Final as the survivors in their respective conferences. 

And then Tuesday night happened. 

The Stars jumped to a 3-0 lead about halfway through the game; the Panthers looked sleepy and uninterested. Then the visitors woke up, started up the buzzsaw, and delivered a 4-3 comeback victory as they dissected the Dallas penalty kill in the third period. 

When it was 3-0, there was a column about to be written on how the Stars had made a statement against the Panthers. It would have noted that they had extended their winning streak to six games, doing so against one of the most complete teams in the NHL. And in the process, how they had made the defending Eastern Conference champions look about as rough as they have all season. 

With the loss, and the nature of the setback, the easy pivot point goes to suggesting the Stars are middle-class bullies in the NHL. How they eat and devour the middle- and lower-tier competition, but in games against legit Cup contenders, they turn into frauds.

The Stars are a combined 3-9-3 against the Panthers, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, and Vegas Golden Knights—the other teams widely considered to be true Stanley Cup contenders. That’s both concerning and a narrative the Stars will have to overcome when the playoffs crank up next month. Because like it or not, the NHL often stands for the Narrative Hockey League. 

The on-ice aspect of the sport isn’t well-covered. From an Xs and Os perspective, broadcasts—even the best ones—rarely break down why a team won or lost. Instead we hear about how it’s an emotional sport, a physical one, and while it’s common to read about how a defensive front changed an NFL game or how a tactical change swung an NBA game, the NHL is the king of narratives, defining our coverage and reaction. 

The whole “best playoffs in sports” thing is so overused that we can picture players sacrificing life and limb to block shots. In Dallas it’s Darryl Sydor dragging his broken body to the front of the net. In Las Vegas, it’s the Golden Knights leaning into their “it hurts to win” slogan from last spring. Then there is the lionized list of injuries we hear players endure come playoff time. 

But the narratives don’t explain why or how the Stars are a Cup contender. They also don’t explain why or how they aren’t. 

And that’s the trap I admittedly almost fell into on Wednesday with this column. You can call for a gut check, as Joe Pavelski did after the game, or you can look at the reality: the Stars took too many penalties, and Esa Lindell and Jani Hakanpää got manhandled and lost their men in front of the Dallas net. 

That’s why they lost to the Panthers. It’s not because they are soft against good teams or even because Jake Oettinger has been struggling. They were a schematic change away from winning and providing a much better narrative. 

If the Stars had won, it wouldn’t have been because they were emotionally charged or out to prove something. It simply would have been a reality that Dallas’ forecheck turns defense into offense with the best in the league, and its transition attack is going to give anyone fits in a seven-game series. 

It’s admittedly weird for a hockey columnist to point this out. After all, we love the narratives, too. It drives us to watch, and I’ll write about those elements sooner than later. But sometimes a game is just a game. The opponent doesn’t really matter, and the outcome is best dissected by something as simple as poor coverage on the penalty kill.

This one wasn’t a story. It was just two letters: Xs and Os.

Author

Sean Shapiro

Sean Shapiro

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Sean Shapiro covers the Stars for StrongSide. He is a national NHL reporter and writer who previously covered the Dallas…
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