Washington, D.C. is a place where history is made. There are monuments to those who made an indelible mark on America and museums to ensure certain facts are never to be forgotten. It’s a city that loves to be the dateline when headlines are in bold type.
A town that loves history was hoping to see some more last night. With Alexander Ovechkin sitting on 800 goals, the nation’s capital was hoping to see the “Great 8” score and catch Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL all-time scoring list. There was a buzz about the hockey world that this would be a night to remember.
Lakeville, Minnesota will never be considered as a place where the fortunes of the world were irreversibly altered. A suburb of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul), Lakeville would seem like a town filled with Minnesota-nice people, who just want to go about their business and not cause a commotion. According to a friend who lives in the state, that would be a correct assessment until you consider the goaltender factor. The town has produced perhaps the greatest goaltender ever to play in the most hockey-crazed state in the union.
Lakeville North High School had the honor of providing both starting netminders for last night’s game. When considering all the goaltenders stopping pucks around the planet, the odds of one small town high school having two former pupils face each other in the NHL is pretty mind boggling. Charlie Lindgren, as usual, was great against the Stars. In four career games against Dallas, he has allowed only six goals and yet is a hard luck 2-2-0. Against any other goalie Lindgren would have won easily. On this night, he was usurped by a fellow Panther.
Jake Oettinger only played his freshman season at Lakeview North, leading his team to the Minnesota State High School Finals, playing in front of 20,000 fans in the championship game. It was in this moment, playing for his high school in his home state, it was learned that Otter loves the spotlight and plays his best in the biggest of circumstances. Whether it be the NCAA Tournament, the World Junior Championships, the World Championship or the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Stars 2017 first round pick does not shy away from the moment. With the eyes of the hockey world focused on Washington, the 23-year-old netminder made sure he stole the headlines.
There were plans for a celebration when Ovechkin tied Howe and a bigger one planned when the mark was passed. This was not going to happen last night—not on Otter’s watch. Five times Ovechkin made an offering to tie Mr. Hockey, and five times the Stars netminder/brick wall shut him down. The two biggest saves of the night came late in the third period as Dallas was clinging to a one-goal lead. Ovechkin will eventually get goals 801 and 802, but it won’t be the Dallas Stars allowing history to happen They can thank their goaltender for that.
The stats are easy to list: 45 saves on 46 shots. Oettinger swept the season series from the Capitals going 2-0-0, with a goals-against average of .50 and a save percentage of .986 (72-73). In my mind, he earned the #1, #2 and #3 Stars of the Game. Otter seems to raise his game as more biscuits come flying his way. Jake is 3-0-0 in his young career when facing 40 or more shots during a regular season game.
The best thing about Oettinger’s performance last night is the long-term accolades that come with standing on your head while the whole hockey world is watching. He did it in Game 7 in Calgary and once again last night. People who don’t watch the Stars on a regular basis can’t truly grasp how great this youngster is in net. These kinds of performances make lasting impressions that can lead to All-Star game appearances, chances to represent Team USA at events like the World Cup or Olympics and, best of all, Vezina Trophy consideration. Big time players do their best work in big time moments. Jake Oettinger personifies that credo.
Watching greatness develop in front of your own eyes is rare. Washington saw it happen with Ovechkin and will eventually see him rewrite the NHL record book. Dallas is witnessing it in real time with Oettinger and can only imagine the possibilities. On a night when Washington was the center of the hockey world expecting history, a kid from Lakeville, MN took center stage instead. It’s not the first time Oettinger has stolen a victory and the admiration of those who watch him play, and his Dallas Stars teammates are very happy to know, it won’t be the last time that happens either.