Heika’s Take: Stars have officially ‘flipped the switch’ to playoff mode

Heika’s Take: Stars have officially ‘flipped the switch’ to playoff mode

Published May 9, 2022
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DALLAS — The switch, it seems, has been flipped.

After an inconsistent couple of weeks heading into the playoffs, the Stars were worried they might not be able to just “flip a switch” and find the intensity needed to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But after a 4-2 win in Game 3 Saturday in front of a capacity crowd of 18,532 at American Airlines Center, they sure look like they’re in a pretty good place right now.

“I think we’re playing well right now, everybody’s all in,” said forward Roope Hintz, who had an empty-net goal. “Everybody tries to play for the win and try not to let the puck go into our net. It’s good to see.”

Video: On the team’s mindset: ‘Everybody’s all in’

The win gives Dallas a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and puts them in a place that not many on the outside figured they might be. Calgary, after all, won the Pacific Division and had the best goal differential in the Western Conference at plus-85. The Stars had the worst in the playoffs at minus-8, and there were plenty of questions about just why they couldn’t seem to put all of the pieces together.

But so far in this series, they’ve been the better team.

Yes, the Flames continue to dominate possession and shots on goal – enjoying a 41-32 advantage in shots on goal and an 80-63 cushion in shot attempts in Game 3. However, Dallas continues to keep the scoring chances to the outside and continues to dog Calgary goalie Jacob Markstrom, who finally wore down a little on Saturday.

“We’ve got to find a way to finish, I think the strength in our game is five-on-five, we spent too much time on ticky-tacky four-on-four hockey,” said Calgary forward Blake Coleman on the heavy penalty minutes in the series. “But that’s why we play seven. Our group still feels really good, really confident in our ability, we win one game, we got home ice back, so that’s the goal coming in here. There’s no panic in our room, we got a lot of guys that have been in these situations and, like I said, it’s seven games.”

Video: On Game 3 atmosphere at AAC: ‘Nothing better’

Joe Pavelski scored twice on rebound shots at the net, and even helped the Stars tally for the first time on the power play – their 11th power play in the past three games. It was a fantastic performance by a grizzled veteran in a high-pressure moment. And it was exactly what the goal-starved Stars hungered for.

Dallas has been led by the top line all year and were led again on Saturday. Radek Faksa scored on a tipped shot to open the scoring at 8:21 of the first period, but Calgary tied it up five minutes later on a controversial Trevor Lewis goal. Jake Oettinger looked like he was interfered with on the play, so the Stars challenged and asked for a league review.

The appeal was denied, the goal counted, and Dallas then had to kill a penalty for delay of game. The Stars survived that experience, but then went down 2-1 when Elias Lindholm scored on a one-timer early in the second period.

Because the Stars have been inconsistent, and because the fan base easily could’ve started to worry, a positive sign was needed. Pavelski got it when he and his teammates were able to cap a resilient shift and tie things up.

Pavelski fed Miro Heiskanen early in the shift for a stunning one-timer that looked like it was in the net. However, Markstrom made an acrobatic save and kept things tied. Dallas however retrieved the puck, brought it back out to the perimeter, and Heiskanen fired another shot on net. Pavelski drove the crease for the rebound, and Dallas entered the second intermission all tied up.

“It’s hockey and anything can happen,” said Heiskanen of the ability to stay focused and stick with the play. “You can’t worry about it after that. You have to keep playing and we got it back right after that.”

Video: Heiskanen, Pavelski recap Stars’ Game 3 victory

That said, this team wasn’t so relentless a couple of weeks ago, as they meandered through games against Arizona and Anaheim to finally make the playoffs. But that was a couple of weeks ago, and this is the playoffs – and the difference between the two is pretty obvious.

“This group, as you’re challenged, this group’s always responded well,” Pavelski said. “I think the one reason you probably feel like we’re a little better is just everybody is really engaged and competing and hanging in there. All those things.”

Those little things came together on the game-winner. With Alexander Radulov a healthy scratch, Vladislav Namestnikov was moved onto the power play and created a shot on goal early in a late man advantage. The rebound came right out to Pavelski, who timed his drive to the net perfectly, and Dallas had a 3-2 lead with 10 minutes left in the third.

That created all sorts of drama, but the Stars responded well. The most intense moment came when Flames scoring leader Johnny Gaudreau was sprung on a breakaway, and Oettinger stopped him cold to preserve the lead.

“Just trying to get out there and take away some ice, and I felt like he didn’t have room to make a move, so I thought he was going to shoot and thankfully I made the save,” said Oettinger who finished with 39 saves and now has a 1.01 goals-against average and .969 save percentage in his first three playoff starts.

Video: On the atmosphere inside American Airlines Center

“He’s been making the saves he’s had to,” Pavelski said. “Then he’s made those timely ones for us. The guys are playing hard in front of him. There’s been a lot of sacrifice with some big shot blocks along the way. He’s stood tall and he’s earned this opportunity. It’s starting to show, which is great to see. It’s helped us win these couple of games.”

And it’s a huge reason why the team looks so much better. He has confidence, so they have confidence. The Stars are the first wild card team and had much worse regular-season numbers than the Flames, but right now they’re doing what they have to do to win in the playoffs.

That’s something they definitely should be proud of.

“We definitely can play better than we did [Saturday],” Bowness said. “We gave them too many chances, too many shots. We won the game, we found a way, and that’s the most important thing. Can we play better? Yes.”

Great seats still remain for Game 4 on Monday at 8:30 p.m. CT. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.