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Hockey

What We Saw, What It Felt Like: Stars-Avalanche, Game 5

A rough stretch of Dallas goaltending leads to another dramatic Colorado comeback.
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Jake Oettinger's brutal period cost Dallas a chance to close out at home. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports Jake Oettinger's brutal period cost Dallas a chance to close out at home. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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

Comebacks don’t always have to be dramatic, multi-goal affairs to be effective. 

It’s part of the DNA of the Colorado Avalanche, who have come from behind in five of their six playoff victories. That follows a regular season in which the Avs finished second in the league with 26 victories from a losing position. So with their season on the line, it figures that they’d somehow pick and prod their way back one more time.

Arturri Lekhonen’s goal beat the buzzer in the first period to make it 1-1, canceling out whatever relief and celebration Joe Pavelski felt after finally scoring for the first time in 11 playoff games. Cale Makar added a goal of his own late in the second period on the power play, answering his 2017 draft mate Miro Heiskanen to set a 2-2 table before the third period. 

And then Jake Oettinger bobbled everything. 

The Stars goalie allowed a wonky third goal, in which he lost the puck on the play and didn’t really get set or recover as he was beaten twice before the puck went in. Then Oettinger gifted Makar his second of the night, a softy through the five hole. And just as Dallas was pushing to inch back into the game, the goalie absolutely whiffed with the glove on a Nathan MacKinnon shot, effectively ending the game to lock in Game 6 on Friday. 

Oettinger’s body language after the MacKinnnon goal told the story. He was well aware he had let his teammates down, how this series could have been over had he been dialed in instead of allowing bad goals at bad times against two players who certainly don’t need any freebies. 

The good news is Oettinger has always prided himself on strong bouncebacks and being a great road goalie. He lives to silence an opposing crowd. He’ll have that opportunity in Game 6, but had he been sharper, the Stars would have been resting and watching the Oilers and Canucks beat each other up in the other semifinal. —Sean Shapiro

What It Felt Like

Meh.

Is it arrogant to react that way? To be fair, I’m only describing my initial reaction to Colorado’s third goal, which gave the Avalanche the lead early in the third period. After that, it felt like Colorado’s time to catch a break, even if the Avs have been outplayed throughout the series and never held the overall lead. After all, how does the narrative account for Zach Parise batting down the puck across the goal line for an inelegant bank shot goal from Casey Mittelstadt? It doesn’t. But that was the difference, unsustainable as it feels.

Now, Cale Makar scoring the game-winner to make it 4-2 in the third? That’s another story. Same goes for Nathan MacKinnon scoring late in the third to leave no doubt. Those are players who do fit into the larger narrative. These are the players who can bolster Colorado’s slim chances of inching back into this series.

Should Stars fans feel worried about that? Not too much. Dallas’ depth is still superior, and even though the timeline for Roope Hintz’ return remains unknown, their top center (Wyatt Johnston) is healthy and is dominating unlike any Star in recent memory at so young an age. Beyond that, the Stars’ recipe for success is much more sustainable than needing to rally in the third period of every game.

There are things for Dallas to clean up, whether it’s in the next game or the next round. Jake Oettinger would probably want a few goals back, but it’s not like those shots have been beating him all series. More pertinently, Dallas must focus on third-period defense and protecting home-ice advantage. The latter is especially relevant; home ice was the hard-earned reward for being the best regular-season team in the Western Conference, and Dallas has squandered it completely through two series. Should the Stars start feeling haunted a little, that will assuredly be their ghost, especially since the Avalanche now get the chance to even the series in their own barn, which they’ve protected far better.

Still, I would argue that Wednesday’s Game 5 loss felt like more of an inconvenience than Colorado turning the tide. The better team doesn’t always win, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest Dallas won’t be returning to the conference finals. —David Castillo

Authors

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…
David Castillo

David Castillo

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David Castillo covers the Stars for StrongSide. He has written for SB Nation and Wrong Side of the Red Line,…
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