Anger, for lack of a better word, is good.
Especially in a playoff series.
The Stars and Calgary Flames are heading into Game 7 Sunday at Scotiabank Saddledome, and there’s expected to some serious anger going around. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, that can be a very good thing. Anger can clarify and simplify and capture the essence of a situation.
Especially in a Game 7. Especially when two teams have exchanged punches. Especially when one team will have its season end.
Then yes, anger can be good.
“It’s going to be a war,” said Stars forward Michael Raffl. “I can’t wait.”
Of course, anger, like all good things, has to be taken in the proper dose. Go too far, and your team could suffer. Get swept up in the emotion, and you might forget that the purpose is to win the game.
The Stars on Friday struck the perfect balance of emotion and intelligence. They took just two penalties and earned a 4-2 win at American Airlines Center. While teammate Luke Glendening was knocked out of the game on a hit by Calgary defenseman Nikita Zadorov, the Stars had to walk the line between retribution and finding a better way to redemption.
“We took two penalties, and we’ll take that,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “We didn’t shy away from any contact, but you play through that. It’s playoff hockey and you play through everything.”
Video: Bowness on taking the series to seven games
The league had a hearing with Zadorov on Saturday, but it was determined by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety that there would be no supplemental discipline assessed. Before the ruling was announced, Bowness said there needs to be some accountability.
“These are the hits we’re trying to get out of the game,” Bowness said. “I know it’s a bigger guy hitting a smaller guy, but it’s the first contact on the head that we’ve been trying for years to get out of the game. All they can do is keep addressing it. You can’t let it slide, it has to be addressed, and it’s up to the league to see what they want to do about it.”
Yet, the smart thing was to let the league deal with it. On Friday, it would’ve been easy for the Stars to get upset that Zadorov wasn’t called for a penalty. It would’ve been easy to unravel. But they didn’t.
“I think it’s just our competitive nature and wanting to win and doing whatever it takes to win,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said of walking the fine line. “Emotions get high out there and players get angry, coaches get angry, but it’s finding a level balance with it to not distract you and keep you focused on the task at hand.”
Video: Benn on series intensity, Game 7 mindset
In fact, Benn said the fact that Glendening, who suffered a lower-body injury on the hit, was able to come out and sit on the bench in the third period was both inspiring and calming. The veteran forward didn’t play but gave encouragement to his teammates as they were protecting a one-goal lead.
“You come off after a shift and make eye contact with him and he’s encouraging us to keep going and be better,” Benn said. “I’m glad he came back out.”
Glendening is a game-time decision for Game 7, Bowness said, but whoever plays will be engaged. In the 2020 playoffs, Joel Kiviranta was called upon because of an injury to Andrew Cogliano and ended up tallying a hat trick, including the game-winning goal in overtime. It’s now one of the great stories in franchise history.
“That’s what’s special about Game 7’s,” Benn said. “The most unlikely of heroes can rise to the occasion.”
Of course, that’s more about finding a way to harness your anger and emotions, but it’s also about using your energy and digging deep. The Stars needed that desperation in Game 6 to finally flip the script in terms of puck possession and shots on goal and ended up having their best game of the series. Dallas had a 40-38 advantage in shots on goal and outhit the Flames 38-23. That’s a pretty neat trick, as teams that win the hit battle so lopsidedly typically don’t have the puck that much.
But again, it’s about balance. Use the anger, let it simplify your game, and then find a calm place where it all comes together.
“I wouldn’t say anger,” Bowness said. “It’s controlled emotion. You have to play hard, but it has to be under control.”
The Stars found that balance in Game 6. Now they have to use it again.
“Of course, it helps,” Kiviranta said when asked about the role of anger. “It keeps you in the game when there’s a little anger. Calgary got a little angry too because they wanted to move on [in Game 6], but we said `Not today.'”
Video: Kiviranta shares excitement for Game 7
And that’s something they hope to do again.
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.