Across the first three games of their first-round series against the Flames, the Stars have ridden Jake Oettinger — through Calgary power plays and road environments, late-game breakaways and net-front scrambles.
He’s been the workhorse they’ve loaded with weight. They’ve asked him to lead an upset over the Pacific Division champion Flames. They’ve counted on him to carry them.
During a 4-1 loss in Game 4 to the Flames, the Stars did little else but hope that Oettinger could bail them out, allowing 54 shots on Monday night.
Rasmus Andersson (power play), Johnny Gaudreau (penalty shot), Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund (empty net) scored for the Flames, who tied the series at 2. Tyler Seguin scored a 6-on-4 power play goal in the third period to give the Stars life.
The Flames controlled the game, hemming the Stars into their own zone and assaulting Oettinger with shot after shot, chance after chance. Dallas allowed 19 shots in the first period. It surrendered 20 shots in the second period.
The defensive structure started to fray in Game 3 when the Stars allowed 41 shots on goal. But it unraveled on Monday night. Oettinger was the security blanket the Stars prayed would protect them, and he finished with 50 saves in a remarkable losing performance.
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Calgary. Game 6 will be in Dallas on Friday night.
Jacob Markstrom made 34 saves for his second win of the series.
The Stars had chances against Markstrom, but not enough to beat him.
Miro Heiskanen rang a crossbar after a self-manufactured rush in the first period. Radek Faksa drove the net hard. Tyler Seguin’s backhand was denied. So was Ryan Suter’s shot on a 3 on 1. Michael Raffl hit the frame after a John Klingberg stretch pass sprung him for a breakaway. Even Vladislav Namestnikov’s chance at the net-front early in the third period tested Markstrom.
But the power play went 1 for 6 and got booed after a discombobulated and failed chance in the third period.
The Flames, meanwhile, tested Oettinger often.
For long stretches of the first period, it looked like the Flames were on a power play. That preceded Oettinger’s robbery of Tyler Toffoli midway through the frame. In the second period, the Flames forced Klingberg and Jason Robertson into shifts longer than four minutes by disrupting breakouts, making plays and forcing an icing.
The first two goals that beat Oettinger on Monday night came on a 5-on-3 and a penalty shot.
Andersson’s one-timer midway through the second period gave the Flames a 1-0 lead after Jani Hakanpää (high-sticking) and Radek Faksa (tripping) were called for consecutive tripping penalties.
Gaudreau’s insurance goal was at 7:47 of the third period, after he was awarded a penalty shot because of John Klingberg’s hook from behind on a breakaway. Gaudreau slipped the puck between Oettinger’s legs for his first goal of the series.
Lindholm’s third-period goal gave Calgary a 3-0 lead and was his third of the series. Seguin’s tally was his first of the series and came after Stars coach Rick Bowness pulled Oettinger with 5:58 left in the third on the power play.
In the first two periods, the Stars allowed 3.93 expected goals, according to Natural Stat Trick. Oettinger allowed just one.
Entering Monday night, the Stars understood the importance of Game 4. They had a 2-1 series lead and could take a 3-1 stranglehold on the series with a win at the American Airlines Center.
In NHL history, teams that win Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead win the series 89.6% of the time. Teams that lose Game 4 to tie the series at 2? They win 52.3% of series, dropping a near certainty to a statistical coin flip.
“After Game 1, we obviously didn’t want to go down 2-0, so the urgency and expectations raised,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said before the game. “I expect the same from those guys. Obviously, 3-1 vs. 2-2 is a big difference. They’re going to come out hard and ready to go.”
This is the game the Flames were waiting on.
They outshot the Stars in each of the first three games, by an average of almost nine shots a game. At 5 on 5, the Flames controlled 57.3% of shot attempts in the first three games.
Oettinger was the difference in the series.
“We can play better,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said before the game. “I’m convinced of that. I know (Flames coach Darryl Sutter) is saying the same thing about his team. In the playoffs, there’s not a lot of room out there right now.”
On Monday night, the Stars ceded space on the ice. Then they gave up the series lead.
Radulov back in: Stars forward Alexander Radulov was back in the lineup for Dallas in Game 4 after he was a healthy scratch in Game 3. Radulov replaced Marian Studenic up front.
Studenic played 5:31 during Game 3 and was on the ice for both Calgary goals. Studenic re-joined Jacob Peterson as a healthy scratch. Peterson has not played any playoff games.