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Hockey

What We Saw, What It Felt Like: Stars-Golden Knights, Game 7

It took seven grueling games, but Dallas got its revenge.
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Finally, the Stars are able to celebrate. Jerome Miron, USA Today Sports. Finally, the Stars are able to celebrate. 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

The Stars wanted Radek Faksa back in the lineup for the little things he could provide.

It didn’t matter that the veteran center has become less popular in Dallas since Pete DeBoer became head coach. Faksa is a relic of Rick Bowness/Jim Montgomery hockey, an era when elbow grease and grime were well worth a little less firepower up the middle. That doesn’t always jibe with the considerably higher octane system Dallas plays in now. 

But it would be foolish to ignore what the 30-year-old provides, no matter the system. The vital defensive zone faceoffs. His ability on the penalty kill. The shot blocks. The stick lifts. The little things coaches talk about in pre-game speeches—how a sum of the parts is the difference in a do-or-die situation. All of that made Faksa well worth calling upon for the most important game of Dallas’ season.

Of course, goals can also make a difference. And 44 seconds into the third period, Faksa became the most popular man in Dallas when he scored on a backhand after a tenacious cycle by the fourth line to finally send Vegas packing and advance Dallas to the second round of the NHL playoffs.  

Faksa had help. Wyatt Johnston was sublime once again, scoring a big goal in a Game 7 for the second straight postseason after closing out the Seattle Kraken last spring. Still just 20 years old, Johnston was a point-per-game player in the series and Dallas’ most consistent offensive threat. He delivered a 1-0 lead in the first period by turning defense into offense off of the forecheck. 

That was enough for Dallas until Nils Lundkvist made his first impact on the series after the Stars spent most of the first six games playing with six defenders. Unfortunately for the young Swede, Lundkvist completely justified the limited ice time and lack of trust from the Stars coaching staff, as he took a horrendous read and gifted a free path to the net for Brett Howden, who easily scored to tie it up at 1-1. 

Thankfully for Lundkvist and the rest of the Stars, Faksa was there for his Game 7 moment early in the third period, and Jake Oettinger did the rest with a 21-save performance. Last season’s Western Conference Finals defeat has been avenged. Now the Stars can move on. —Sean Shapiro

What It Felt Like

If you’re a Stars fan, it’s hard not to feel at least a modest amount of petty joy, celebrating the smiles as much as you’re enjoying the tears. Granted, I don’t condone that feeling. Nobody likes a sore winner. But how good does it feel to simply be rid of all the subterfuge that came with this series?

I want to stay focused on Vegas, if you’ll indulge me. The Golden Knights deserve a lot of respect. Yes, I know they’re the bad guys, but they were also last year’s best. Hockey needs more teams willing to be bold like them, even if that boldness has strained the rules of engagement. All the same, they’ve ignored rigid tradition in favor of raw efficiency, and the hockey world is better for it. So is Dallas. As I’ve argued before, the Stars need that quality trail of fallen rivals. If iron sharpens iron, then the Stars just went into the perfect forge to prepare them for what lies next.

There will be plenty of time to focus on Colorado. For now, the Stars are entering the second round with Jake Oettinger at the top of his game, a blueline that elevated its status against a deep Vegas forward group (thanks to the efforts of all involved—well, OK, all five regulars I should say), and an ensemble cast of forwards that continued to rack up chances against arguably the best defense in the Western Conference outside of Dallas’. As Lindy Ruff used to say, “Everybody ropes, everybody rides.” Now this team rides into the second round.  

And so the spotlight turns to the other former Cup champs: Colorado. If the Knights tested Dallas’ toughness and resolve, the Avalanche will test its legs. I don’t know that the Avalanche are necessarily better than Golden Knights, but beating Colorado will answer plenty of questions about how versatile this Stars team is and how far it can go. The marathon is over. It’s time for the sprint. 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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