DALLAS — The Stars had to win Game 6 on Friday night just to keep their season going. But in beating the Calgary Flames 4-2 in front of a sellout crowd of 18,532 at American Airlines Center, Dallas sent a message to the Flames, to the league – and maybe mostly to themselves – that it should be more than prepared for a final elimination game in this series.
After struggling at times in Games 4 and 5, the Stars played their most complete game of the series on Friday. They had a 40-38 edge in shots on goal and a decided advantage in scoring chances – the first time they’ve done that against the Flames. What’s more, they won the battle of the faceoff circle 44-21 (68 percent) and outhit the Flames 38-23.
In a game where they had to be desperate, they learned something about themselves.
“I think the message was that we’ve got to go have a good third. We haven’t always had good thirds at times with the lead and we wanted to try to change that in our game and we were going to need one,” said forward Joe Pavelski. “The other night, they came out hard in the third, we didn’t handle it well enough, and tonight was one of those situations where everyone bought in. We took a step in the right direction of doing it and now we have a better understanding.”
Now they have a chance to go to Calgary and surprise the league. Dallas was the first wild card team, while Calgary was the Pacific Division champion. The Flames led the Western Conference in goal differential at plus-64. The Stars were the only team to make the playoffs with a negative goal differential (minus-8). On paper, the season should be done for Dallas. But everyone in the dressing room decided it needed to go on.
“Of course, you learn, but I thought we had everybody on the same page in the third,” said forward Michael Raffl. “Guys were diving in front of shots, finishing their checks, being strong on pucks in the o-zone and that killed a lot of time.”
Dallas started the game a little slow, but still got the first goal. In fact, the Stars tallied the first two. Roope Hintz got the first goal off a beautiful drop pass from Pavelski, as the top line was reunited after a short breakup. Then, Raffl was able to jam in a rebound after Joel Kiviranta drove the net and created some serious havoc.
The Hintz goal was the result of the team’s best trio getting back together. Robertson, who had been struggling, was moved onto a line with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn last game and scored his first goal. He also got his legs moving and was clearly back to his normal jump. So, Stars coach Rick Bowness reassembled the trio, and they created a bunch of scoring chances.
“I just sensed that Robo was skating,” Bowness said. “You see those first couple of shifts and he was into it. When he’s into it, get him back with those guys. That chemistry is there, there’s something special there so let it go.”
On the second goal, Kiviranta’s been solid at being a pest and finding ways to possess the puck, and he did just that. Sneaking around a Flames defender, Kiviranta carried a wave of trash into Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom, and that forced a mad scramble. Raffl was there to push the puck home, and that was the moment against the Flames goalie, who entered the game leading the NHL in goals-against average in the playoffs at 1.21.
It was a great sign for a Stars team that’s been goal starved for a while.
Dallas looked on the way toward a controlled win, but the Flames came storming back.
Michael Stone scored just two minutes after Raffl when Johnny Gaudreau threaded a cross-ice pass in transition. Then, Mikael Backlund powered a puck through Jake Oettinger after a power play expired to tie things up.
Dallas, which gave up a 1-0 lead in the third period of Game 5, could’ve easily folded. But the Stars instead dug in and took control of the game. They finished the second period with a 17-9 advantage in shots on goal, and they even had a 13-11 edge in the third period – an area that’s been a huge concern all season.
Miro Heiskanen made a scintillating move to get the game-winner, as he moved from right to left and then snapped a shot through a crowd for his first goal of the series. It was a beautiful play, and a reminder that Heiskanen was the third overall pick in 2017 and remains one of the team’s leaders in just about every category.
“Miro was dynamic without the puck and with the puck,” Bowness said. “When he’s on, you love watching him play hockey the way he plays the game. He’s so smart, so calm, so poised, and just so smooth. That was a great performance by Miro. When you stand behind the bench and watch him and you see the emotion he plays with, it’s a calm emotion. He wants to be out there.”
Dallas then learned from Game 5, as it kept the foot on the gas and played an aggressive game. That had the capacity crowd energized all the way until Seguin scored an empty-net goal to account for the final 4-2 score. It was a moment that was filled with energy, with pride, and with the belief this team can do it again.
“I don’t think there was ever one thing that fazed us and there shouldn’t be,” Pavelski said. “It’s a fun time playing, you’ve got to keep going and you work for your next opportunity and your next shift.”
Luke Glendening was knocked out of the game after a second-period hit from Nikita Zadorov, but he returned and sat on the bench in the third period. Bowness said Glendening still is a question mark for Game 7 because he suffered a lower-body injury on the hit. However, Zadorov also might miss Game 7 if he receives supplemental discipline for the league.
The Stars realized that they couldn’t get caught up in officiating or any other distractions.
“That’s what you have to do,” Raffl said. “Obviously, there’s emotion involved and you tend to snap if something happens where you think it’s not the right call. But you breathe through it, and you move on.”
That said, the intensity is only going to go higher.
“It’s going to be a war,” Raffl said of Game 7. “I can’t wait.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.