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Hockey

What We Saw, What It Felt Like: Stars-Oilers, Game 4

After five unanswered goals and a Chris Tanev injury, Stars fans are on tenterhooks.
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Mattias Janmark gets pumped after a goal in the second period. 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

It’s a 2-2 series, a best-of-three with Dallas holding home ice advantage. In theory, that’s exactly where the Stars wanted to be after four games. But for the first time in this series, things are starting to look a little dire for Dallas after Chris Tanev blocked a shot in the second period, suffered an ankle injury, and didn’t return. 

Tanev’s absence disheveled everything. Thomas Harley struggled with more pressure, Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen both were asked to cover more for their defensive partner, and Ryan Suter and Alexander Petrovic were pushed into larger roles that they struggled to handle. 

Frustratingly for the Stars, all of this unfolded in a game that they started well. Dallas scored on its first shot, a snipe by Wyatt Johnston, and then went up 2-0 on a wonky deflection off Darnell Nurse’s pants. 

After that, everything went Edmonton’s way. The Oilers scored five unanswered goals, the last on an empty-netter, and outshot Dallas 27-17. The Stars did their part to make sure it was easier for Edmonton. 

Suter effectively tackled his own goalie on the Oilers’ first goal, and none of the forwards picked up his man on Evan Bouchard’s rebound that made it 2-2. Harley had an all-around awful shift on the power play when former Star Mattias Janmark scored shorthanded to make it 3-2. 

And then, with all of that momentum, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid found space to cook and make it 4-2 before the second period was even over. 

This is supposed to be a “What We Saw” section, but now the bigger question is what we’ll see in Game 5. That’s because the Stars have major decisions to make on the defensive side if Tanev is unavailable and they face a huge test with the series suddenly feeling more like a coin flip than a sure Dallas victory. Game 5 will teach us a lot about a group that has dealt well with adversity before. —Sean Shapiro

What It Felt Like

For a second, it almost felt like complete control of this series.

The Stars had won two straight and then proceeded to score two goals in the first six minutes of Game 4, and because they were the favorites, their success fit the overall narrative. Plus, they seemed to be accumulating all the goodwill, getting a big boost from the return of Roope Hintz and even small boosts, like the tactics Dallas’ forwards used to dupe Edmonton’s blueline. But then Wednesday night happened.

The thing about playoff hockey is that it isn’t always kind to narratives. For all the weak-side trickery that earned Dallas so many odd-man rushes in the first three games, it didn’t matter Wednesday. The narrative about Jake Oettinger relishing the villain role in away games, the one that perhaps explains why the Stars have generally been the proverbial road warriors? Also didn’t matter. The Edmonton blueline that had been leaking chances suddenly looked like Vegas in a Canadian disguise.

That’s not to say the Stars have lost control of the series so much as it is to ask how accurate the narrative was to begin with. Dallas has outscored Edmonton in the series by exactly—let’s do the math here—zero. That’s right. Dallas has scored 12 goals, and Edmonton has scored 12. The illusion of control is exposed when you look at how both teams perform from period to period. These aren’t just momentum shifts; it’s the ground beneath the players’ feet changing.

As if Dallas didn’t have enough obstacles, now we await the status of Chris Tanev. Given how several members of the Dallas blueline played Wednesday night, I’m sure Pete DeBoer is as worried as the rest of us are. However, if it’s true that fortunes change quickly, then that might be an advantage for the Stars. They don’t allow themselves to dwell on the lows, a feeling made explicit by Jason Robertson after his hat trick in Game 3, when asked about his goal-scoring drought. So maybe the calculus remains the same for the Stars, who continue to be a team that keeps fans in suspense when the players themselves aren’t phased by it. But also: perhaps it’ll do them some good to be fazed, because if Dallas has to play another game without their primary watchmen for Connor McDavid, they’re gonna need to bring more than just an even keel. —David Castillo

Authors

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,…
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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