It’s fair to say the Dallas Stars haven’t played their best hockey. And the Stanley Cup final is not exactly the time or place for a team’s game to decline.
But in Game 5 — the second of back-to-back games that both went to overtime — they did just enough to extend the playoffs by at least one more game.
Corey Perry stuffed a loose puck past Andrei Vasilevskiy for his second goal of the game, this one in the second overtime period, and Dallas beat Tampa 3-2 in Game 5 at Rogers Place.
Tampa still holds a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven final, with Game 6 Monday in Edmonton.
Playing less than 22 hours after Game 4 — decided on Kevin Shattenkirk’s power-play overtime winner — in which the Stars had complained about the officiating, they got a relatively infraction-free Game 5 with just four minors overall, two to each team.
Perry opened the scoring in the first period, his second goal in two games. Ondrej Palat tied it in the second. Defenceman Mikhail Sergachev put Tampa ahead early in the third, but Joe Pavelski forced overtime by converting a rebound with 6:45 to go in the period.
The win is all the more impressive when you factor in how decimated the Stars are because of injuries. While Tampa was without captain Steven Stamkos, the Stars were gutted throughout their lineup.
They were without No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop for most of the playoffs, and though Anton Khudobin played well in his absence there has been a decline as the playoffs wore on. Dallas had gone with a two-goalie system all year, but was reluctant to rest Khudobin with untried Jake Oettinger as his backup.
Dallas also lost forwards Radek Faksa (injured in the Western final), Blake Comeau (lost in Game 2 of the Cup final) and Roope Hintz (hurt in Game 4). Basically the third line was wiped out. They were replaced by the likes of Joel Kiviranta, Justin Dowling and Nick Caamano. Then Andrei Sekera was injured in the first period Saturday night.
“When you lose a player, other players have to step up,” said Dallas captain Jamie Benn. “We have a lot of belief in that room that guys can do that.”
With Game 6 Monday (and Game 7 Wednesday, if needed) the NHL is on track to become the first major North American sports league to complete its season, after a four-month pause that started March 12. Ultimately, the rest of the regular season was scratched, with the league inviting 24 teams to expanded playoffs in COVID-free bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.
Starting July 27, the 12 Eastern Conference teams played in Toronto until the conference final, when Tampa and the New York Islanders joined Dallas and Vegas in Edmonton.
The NHL conducted more than 15,000 tests on players and staff in the bubbles, with none testing positive.
It’s estimated that it cost the league and member teams $ 75 million (U.S.) to finish the season and meet contractual obligations to television rightsholders and sponsors.
Beyond the pocketbook, the bubble will have an effect on the NHL record book, skewing it somewhat with the extra games. Vasilevskiy, for example, has an official record of 17 post-season wins — two from the round-robin count. That number won’t be soon duplicated unless the NHL expands to a fifth or play-in round in the future.
So far, Tampa has played 23 skaters and one goalie. Curtis McElhinney has backed up Vasilevskiy, but has not played. Goalie Scott Wedgewood and wingers Alexander Volkov and Mathieu Joseph have been in the bubble, training since the beginning, but have not seen a second of action.
With Dowling getting into his first game on Saturday, Dallas has used 24 skaters and three goalies. Goalie Landon Bow, winger Jason Robertson, centre Ty Dellandrea and defenceman Gavin Bayreuther have not gotten into a game.
“They’re the guys that never get talked about, that probably have the most difficult job in this bubble,” said Cooper. “There’s a couple that have not gotten into games. To be practising and working and staying ready but not getting in is a real grind.
“What I’ve told our players is: You may not feel like you’re helping right at this moment, but they are helping. Getting this experience is great for them, but it’s tough.”