First of all, let us get this out of the way. I cannot believe the Stars did not have to face Andre Vasilevskiy last night. When considering the regular season career numbers of the 2021 Conn Smythe Winner against Dallas, it’s a head-scratcher (12-2-3 1.81 GAA .934 save percentage with FIVE shutouts). For Stars players, getting pucks past the big Russian was a harder task than trying to buy Taylor Swift tickets.
There was no love lost between Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper and former Stars Bench Boss Rick Bowness from their time together in Tampa. During the 2020-21 season, when Dallas and Tampa were Division rivals, Cooper played his ace seven out of eight games winning six of them. Perhaps the starting goalie decision for the Lightning would have been different if Pete DeBoer was not behind the Dallas bench. Pete was, and was handed a nice housewarming gift.
Dallas was also handed another present late in the third period when Mikhail Sergachev forgot the puck right in front of his own net allowing Radek Faksa to pick up the loose biscuit and rip home a wrist shot for a shorthanded goal tying the game at four. The puck was gift-wrapped and left on a platter. No better time for the hard-checking center to get his first lamplighter of the season. It would have been rude for Faksa not to oblige.
Unfortunately, the Stars chose to be respectful guests and did not walk away with all the points available, falling 5-4 in overtime.
Despite the disappointing ending, this game just felt different from other games against Tampa. Instead of trying to squeak out a win based on low-event hockey, the Stars and Lightning went for an all-out toe to toe slugfest. The Lightning still boasts world-class talent such as Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Nikita Kucherov. But the Stars can now match that talent with the youthful skill of Jason Robertson, Miro Heiskanen, and Roope Hintz. Throw in Joe Pavelski and Jake Oettinger and the talent level is nearly even. This made for one of the more entertaining games these two teams have played since Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2020.
The positives continue to outweigh the negatives by a wide margin. The Stars are happy with the evolution of the team and how well they have adapted to Pete DeBoer’s up-tempo style of play. The Avengers Line keeps rolling with Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz, each extending their point streaks to nine games. The power play went 2-2 and now is second-best in the NHL with an impressive 33.3% success rate. The penalty kill was overworked again, but allowed only one goal in five times shorthanded. Faksa’s surprise made for a solid night for the unit and brought the Stars shorthanded goal total to four.
The one point also elevated the Stars road record to a very respectable 5-3-2. The overall record is 9-5-2 for 21 points, but that number is even more impressive when you consider Dallas has played 10 of their first 16 games on the road. With a new coach, new system, and six new faces in the lineup, it would have been easy to excuse a rocky start as time was needed to gel. Instead, the team has placed itself in the upper echelon of the Central Division with a slew of home games on the horizon.
Taking two points while visiting the home of the team that has played in the Stanley Cup Final in three consecutive seasons would have been nice, but one point seems quite satisfactory. The team is still improving, the coaching staff is still learning about the individual players and after entering this three-game road trip on a downward note, the Stars have extricated themselves from any ditch that might have been encountered.
The takeaway from last night is this—two good teams played a hard-fought, exciting game, and the Lightning got the extra goal in overtime. It’s been a while since Dallas could battle at the same pace and ferocity offensively as Tampa. This Stars team is different from any of the versions seen since 2017. The best part of games like this one is knowing there is still room for growth and improvement. Getting a single point instead of two may be a disappointment to some, but the way it was earned is an indication of continued success ahead. Hard to argue with that bottom line, even if a few presents were received in the process.