Nine minutes and thirteen seconds. That’s how far away the Dallas Stars were from taking a 3-0 lead in their second-round series against the Colorado Avalanche. But then the Avalanche scored two times in 1:52 to retake the lead for good in another wild, wild, west game. A 4-3 lead evaporated quickly for Dallas in Game 3, and after a 6-4 loss, they will head into Game 4 leading the series 2-1 rather than 3-0.
Their five-game winning streak may be over, but they still have control of the series. In any other playoff season, we’d likely be talking about how the home team has yet to win in this series, but for now, we can just say the ‘designated home team’ is 0-3 in the series.
We knew that Colorado wasn’t going to just roll over and get swept. They showed up in Game 3 with obviously their best game of the series. Nathan MacKinnon did Nathan MacKinnon things all game long and finished with two assists. Nazem Kadri had the game-winning goal and an assist, Mikko Rantanen had a goal and an assist, and super rookie Cale Makar was a presence all game and had three assists.
“Listen, there’s no chance we thought we were going to sweep this hockey club,” said Dallas interim head coach Rick Bowness after the game. “That’s a very good team over there. There’s not much separating these two teams and the game tonight shows it.”
But all is not lost. Here are three things we really liked about the way the Stars played in the rollercoaster of emotions that was Game 3 for Dallas fans.
1. Scoring At Will, No Deficit Too Big
Once again the Stars showed that they can score with the big boys and continue to show that no lead is insurmountable. It seems that in nearly every game since the first round started that Dallas has had to battle back at some point after trailing. In Game 6 against the Flames, they were down 0-3 and clinched the series with a 7-3 win. In Game 2 against the Avalanche, they were down 0-2 before rallying for a 5-2 triumph.
After Tyler Seguin opened the scoring in Game 3 with his second goal in the series (had zero in six games vs. Calgary) and Dallas carried a 1-0 lead into the second period, the Avs turned the tables and responded with three goals in a span of ten minutes. That could have been a knockout punch.
But in the third period trailing 3-1, the Stars showed what they’re made of. At 4:42 Denis Gurianov netted his seventh goal of these playoffs (tying five others for most in the NHL). At 9:02 Blake Comeau potted his second goal in three games to tie the game, sending the virtual fans into a frenzy and 1:45 after that Jamie Benn gave Dallas a 4-3 lead when Esa Lindell’s point shot deflected off of his knee and somehow found its way past Pavel Francouz.
Now, obviously the lead was short-lived (1:15 to be exact) as Rantanen tied it and by the time three minutes had elapsed since Benn’s goal the Stars found themselves trailing again. “We kind of had them on the ropes,” lamented Benn after the game during his availability. “They’re a good team, they’re not just going to give it to us. I liked our push, but we need it for 60 minutes.”
Both teams scored three goals apiece in the third period in what turned out to be one of the wildest games of these playoffs for any team. Dallas has now scored 14 goals in the first three games of the series, while Colorado has 11. The Stars led Game 3 in shots on goal, shot attempts, and quality scoring chances. Over the next couple of games, it would be a shock to not see both teams tighten things up, but if they don’t Stars fans should be confident that their team can play run-and-gun hockey with anyone.
2. The Avs Defense is Getting Thin
During Game 1 of the series, the Avalanche lost one of their top defensemen in Erik Johnson to injury. In that same game, they lost their no. 1 goalie Philipp Grubauer. It would be a shock if either returned to this series.
In Game 3, blueliner Nikita Zadorov had the goal that started Colorado’s comeback in the second period. But by the time his team took a 3-1 lead with nine minutes left in the period Zadorov was back in the locker room getting treatment for whatever is ailing him. He returned to the bench for the third period but never played.
Four of the five remaining defenders for the Avs played over 21 minutes in Game 3, and if Zadorov is unable to go in Game 4 they will have to turn to an unproven commodity to eat up minutes.
In the first three games of this series, the Stars have dished out a total of 164 hits. Is any of this related? Maybe, maybe not. But it is very possible that the healthiest team will prevail at the end of this series and the more hits that Dallas dishes out, the bigger toll it will take on Colorado’s players.
3. Special Teams Were Special
After Game 2 where the Stars gave the Avalanche eight power-plays and had three of their own, each team had three power plays in Game 3. What was more noticeable was how Dallas blocked shots on the Avs power-play chances. Colorado had only two shots reach Anton Khudobin on its three power plays. Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak had two blocked shots himself on the Avs’ first power play and the team as a whole did a great job at limiting the quality chances while they were shorthanded.
They’ll need more of that going forward if they hope to win this series. Lindell had a game-high six blocked shots and Oleksiak finished with four. In Game 1, Lindell also had six and in Game 2, it was Oleksiak who blocked six.
Dallas did a great job with their discipline in Game 3 and that is again, something they will need more of going forward. Colorado has a high-octane offense led by MacKinnon, the league leader in points (20 points in 11 games), and the Stars do not want to give them too many opportunities with the extra skater.
The Stars entered Game 3 winning five straight games. They weren’t going to win fifteen straight games and skate out of the bubble with the Stanley Cup.
“If it takes six or seven games, that’s what it takes,” added Bowness. “We’ll respond. I’m confident in that room, in our leadership and character of our players, and their desire to win.”
Game 4 will be Friday night, Game 5 will be Sunday (time TBD), and if necessary Game 6 and Game 7 will be Monday, Aug. 31, and Wednesday, Sept. 2 respectively (times TBD).
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.