The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. –Lao Tzu
Was Lao Tzu a Chinese Nostradamus, foretelling the advent of the Stanley Cup Playoffs over two milennia prior to the birth of the National Hockey League? Or was he simply a philosopher and writer credited as the founder of Taoism? Either way, his words whispered on the breeze through the streets of Dallas Thursday night, as the Stars took the first step on their quest for hockey’s Holy Grail with a convincing 4-0 blanking of the injury-plagued Minnesota Wild.
The Stars, backed by a raucous, pulsating sellout crowd, carried the fight to the Wild from the opening faceoff. Though the home team seemed nervous and tentative early on, they outshot the visitors, 14-2, in the first period.
Despite Dallas’ shot advantage, the game remained scoreless until the 3:53 mark of the middle frame, when the red-hot Ales Hemsky stole the puck from Wild center Jarret Stoll, carried it into the offensive zone, pulled up and passed to rookie Radek Faksa, who made his first entry in the Stanley Cup playoff record book:
Faksa’s first career playoff goal was all the Stars needed to get past the Wild Thursday night, though the team tacked on three more for good measure. Jamie Benn led the way (as captains should) with an empty-net goal and two assists, while Jason Spezza and Patrick Eaves each contributed a goal and a helper. All things considered, Thursday night was a great first step for the Stars. Other writers select their three stars of the game; here’s my plus/minus:
Radek Faksa – The Stars’ rookie center bounced back and forth from Cedar Park to Dallas this season, filling in for injured NHLers as needed. After stints in Dallas of 14 games from mid-October to mid-November and four games in early January, Faksa drove north on I-35 the first week in February and arrived in Dallas to stay. The kid found instant chemistry centering the abrasive Antoine Roussel and the skilled Ales Hemsky, and that line produced the Stars’ first goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After watching the young Czech pivot’s early-season performance, I wondered whether his development would make veteran Stars center Vernon Fiddler expendable. Five months later, I think Fiddler should be re-signed by Dallas this summer, as Faksa has proven he can handle, and deserves, third line minutes.
Kari Lehtonen – The big Finnish netminder needed a strong performance in game one. Though he wasn’t tested often, he delivered when necessary…including a statement-making save on a shorthanded scoring chance for the Wild. Stars writer Mark Stepneski summed up Lehtonen’s recent stats nicely, so I don’t have to:
Kari Lehtonen in his past 8 games, regular season and playoffs:
1.76 goals-against average
.932 save percentage
— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) April 15, 2016
The Fans – The crowd at the American Airlines Center was into the game from the opening faceoff, bringing a level of sound and fury often lacking in, say, a Tuesday night game in October against Ottawa. If anyone in the building thought this would be just another hockey game, Stars fans blew that notion away in the first minute. Players can, and do, feed off that passion, adding to Dallas’ home ice advantage. Thursday night, the energetic and loud fans contributed to an important win.
The Power Play – Yes, the Stars scored a power play goal. Yes, it came at a key moment, giving Dallas a 3-0 lead with just under six minutes remaining in the third period and effectively ending Minnesota’s hope of a comeback. That said, the Stars were 1 for 6 with the man advantage against the league’s 27th-ranked penalty kill and allowed another dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunity. While Lehtonen made the save and the Stars won in a rout, the games are only going to get tougher. Lehtonen won’t always get over in time. With apologies to Tyler Seguin, shorties have been Dallas’ Achilles’ Heel all season long. Game one showed that the Stars still haven’t fixed the problem.
DART Rail – As many fans know, riding DART trains to Stars games provides a low-cost (just $5 round-trip), stress-free alternative to driving through rush hour Dallas traffic and paying upwards of $20 to park. For those fortunate enough to live within walking distance of a DART rail station, the cost and convenience can’t be beat. I am one of the fortunate ones.
Concerned by the late (8:30pm Central) weeknight start time for a playoff game, I called DART customer service to ask whether they had plans to run “special event” trains after the game, regardless of when it ended. I clearly stated (three times, no less) that I would be riding the Orange Line westbound (towards DFW airport) after the game. The customer service rep put me on hold to confer with her supervisor, then told me a special event train would run fifteen minutes after the game ended, no matter when that end time might come. I asked again, “an Orange Line train?”, and she responded in the affirmative.
I reached the platform at 11:27pm, less than ten minutes after the game ended. Over the next 47 minutes, I watched special event trains for the Red, Blue and Green Lines come and go. At 12:14am, right on time per the regular weekday schedule, the last Orange Line train of the night rolled into the station to carry me home. The takeaway? While everyone else is assured of a ride home, Stars fans riding the DART Orange Line to playoff games don’t merit a “special event” train. In case of overtime, bring cab fare; It’s a long walk in the dark.