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Hockey

What We Saw, What It Felt Like: Stars-Oilers, Game 3

Roope Hintz's return made for a good trip to Edmonton.
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Jason Robertson celebrates his hat trick in the Stars' 5-3 win over the Oilers. Perry Nelson-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

Turns out getting back the No. 1 center can do wonders for a team. It can also do wonders for the winger who was riding an 11-game goal drought. 

Roope Hintz jumped back into the lineup, and the Stars became more dynamic. While Wyatt Johnston had been filling in admirably as the top-line center, he had neither the speed nor the impact of Hintz when it comes to putting a defense on its heels. When Hintz is up and going, as he was in Game 3, the opponent starts to drop back, and more holes develop for other players. 

Jason Robertson gladly jumped into those pockets of space and delivered a playoff hat trick, including two goals in the second period and a game-winning tally in the third after the Oilers had been the better team in the opening 20 minutes. Robertson scored the game-winner by hammering a one-timer, picking up a rebound, and beating Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner on a jam play near the post. While there had been worthy complaints about Robertson being too one-dimensional, he showed a variety of options in his attack when Dallas needed it most in Edmonton. 

It helped cancel out Connor McDavid’s reaching 100 career playoff points, in just his 64th career playoff game, and an Oilers surge that died during a second period dominated by the Stars. 

Add in a goal by Johnston, plus a near 200-footer into the empty net by Miro Heiskanen, and 28 saves from Jake Oettinger and the Stars checked all the boxes to gain a series lead and improve to 6-1 on the road this postseason. 

The mark for North Texas road excellence is high, set by the Rangers in October, but the Stars have done their best to join them as road warriors and have outscored opponents 23-12 while going 6-1 in seven road games. (No slouch, the Mavericks are 6-2 away from home in the NBA playoffs.)

There’s another road game tomorrow, and a similar result will put Dallas in a position to try and close out the series at home in Game 5. —Sean Shapiro

What It Felt Like

That sound you hear is Dallas tightening its grip on the series.

Edmonton is a phenomenal home team. It’s there in the big numbers and the small numbers. And it’s easy to see why. With last change and the ability to keep Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl away from the opponent’s best defenders—in as much as they can—the opportunity to leverage their elite talents into box-score wins is never better. But by beating Edmonton, in Edmonton, in the first game on Edmonton’s ice in this series, the Stars have given the Oilers a countdown clock.

Typically, each game can represent a theme in the broader narrative. For example: Dallas’ defense versus Edmonton’s offense, goaltending, depth, players needing to step up, players who continue to show up, etc. Yes, Jason Robertson scored a hat trick, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m not sure this game represented anything other than two teams throwing haymakers at each other, with Dallas, in the end, having the better chin. The Stars looked done after the first period. It was an onslaught by Edmonton’s forward group and by far the worst Dallas’ defense has looked all postseason. That was the kind of period that can carry over and get into the players’ heads.

But it didn’t. I’m not even sure Pete DeBoer’s squad knows what the word “demoralized” means. If the players do feel it, they certainly don’t show it. And so the Stars, with a puncher’s chance, decided to swing right back. This makes their level of play sound inelegant, as if the spatial awareness of Robertson and Roope Hintz to keep plays alive on the blueline weren’t the critical signatures of how Dallas got back into the game. But it’s the only fitting analogy for watching the Stars pick up their teeth and get back into the game as if nothing had ever happened. They didn’t just get back, they took control, and now they have control of the series. The game was a lot closer than the score would indicate. But the Oilers’ biggest advantage was being able to win at home with the matchups they needed. They’ve lost that, and with it, one of their most important weapons. With the Stars getting back some of their own, that grip is beginning to look like a suffocating one. —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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