For the Dallas Stars, going into the game against the Colorado Avalanche could best be described by noted 20th Century philosopher, Ric Flair: “In order to be the man, you have to BEAT the man.” (Insert Wooooooooooo).
Before bringing up the fact that Dallas went 2-1 vs. Colorado last year, let’s take a look at those games. Dallas won the first game at home 3-1 despite being outshot 37-22, including an embarrassing 20-1 in the 3rd period. The Stars won the last meeting of the year in Colorado because Jake Oettinger gave a performance indicative of what he would do in the playoffs, stopping 46 of 47 in a 4-1 win. In fact, the Avs had 88 shot attempts that game. During the nine periods played between these two combatants last year, Dallas was the better team for exactly two of them. Colorado was not worried about meeting the Stars in the playoffs and Dallas certainly preferred Calgary as a first-round opponent.
Fast forward to the 2022-23 season. Colorado is the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and the Stars are in first place in the Central Division. The Avs were a bit banged up, but 7-3-0 in their last ten games. Just as we saw last week in Tampa, this game was a chance for the new-look Stars to play the best in the NHL on their own terms.
As long as we are on the Legends of Wrestling theme, there is one other quote to consider: “Just when you think you know the answers, I change all the questions.”—Rowdy Roddy Piper. That’s what Colorado did for the entire game. Fans expecting a high-flying up and down game, were shocked to see the Avs playing lock down defense. Missing Gabriel Landeskog, Val Nichushkin and Sam Girourd, the Avs scratched their way to a one goal advantage and then put on a clinic on how to play with a lead. After Alex Newhook scored at 2:08 in the 3rd period, Colorado held Dallas to only one shot on goal from the offensive zone for the next 14:18 of the final frame. Teams don’t win a Stanley Cup with offense alone and the Avs have learned to play a great defending game. For many around the NHL, this is not a pleasant reality.
In pro wrestling, referees are notorious for losing focus and missing major foul deeds. NHL refs aren’t as easily distracted. During the past two games, the Stars have been shorthanded 11 times while only getting three power play opportunities. Teams having a reputation for taking many penalties tend to get watched closer than those deemed to be disciplined. Fans may not agree with some of the calls, (rightfully so) but perception is reality. Until the Stars show they can stay out of the box, they will be watched more closely and 50-50 calls will generally go against them. This needs to be cleaned up and fast.
With Oettinger on the bench for an extra attacker, Jason Robertson raised the drama by scoring his second of the game and 14th of the season with only 25.8 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. His 12-game point scoring streak is the second longest in Dallas Stars history. All that was missing was Jeff K yelling, “ Oh my lord….That’s Jason Robertson’s Music !” just before Robo cleaned house.
At times in the third period and overtime Jake Oettinger had to feel like he was in a tag-team match without a partner. Flashbacks of last year emerged as Colorado sent 17 shots at the Dallas net in those 25 minutes, many of the high danger variety. On one power play sequence alone, Otter made four game-saving stops in less than 20 seconds of play. Past history was repeating itself as only Oettinger’s brilliance gave his team a chance to pull off an upset..
As so often happens in sports entertainment, the bad guy found a way to sneak out a (shootout) win, retain the belt and silence the fans cheering for their hometown heroes. The Avs remain “The Man”. Dallas took their shot at the champ and came up just short. A rematch awaits in Denver on Saturday. Could this Stars team win a best of seven falls playoff series? That answer remains a long way off in the distance. For now, the Stars have proven they are closer to Colorado than last year. If they want to realistically have a shot at the belt, a lot of work will need to be done before Dallas can legitimately take a shot at dethroning the champs.