Breaking down Stars’ historic comeback win over Blackhawks: ‘Anything is possible’


DALLAS — Midway through the third period, the Stars were headed on a man advantage with a three-goal deficit. Not much had gone right for the home team in the first 50 minutes of the game. It had been two games since anybody not named Jason Robertson had scored a goal for the Stars. They looked like a team left for dead. Forget a goal, they just needed something, anything, positive to come from this power play.

From there, like Undertaker rising from his coffin to unleash hell on Brock Lesnar, the Stars rose from the dead and delivered haymaker after haymaker until the Blackhawks were knocked out and sent back to Chicago with a 6-4 loss.

“Those are special games,” head coach Pete DeBoer said. “I’ve been fortunate, this is my 15th year, you get one or two of those a year that are memorable. They’re memorable both ways, but particularly when you’re on the right end of them. When you’re on the wrong end of them, they don’t feel as good.”

To illustrate how stunning of a whirlwind the end of the game was, consider these timestamps. At 9:46 p.m., Domi scored the goal to put the Blackhawks up 4-1, leading one knucklehead Stars reporter to tweet that that was “probably a dagger by Chicago.” At 9:57, after just 11 minutes in real time and less than four minutes of the game clock, the score was 4-4 and the Bally Sports cameras showed a Blackhawks fan in the arena in disbelief.

At 10:03, Radek Faksa’s rebound shot crossed the goal line just before Blackhawks forward Jason Dickinson could clear the puck to give the Stars a 5-4 lead with 93 seconds left in regulation.

“Anything is possible,” Mason Marchment said. “Last year, we had a lot of comeback wins in Florida. It’s just all about staying positive and sticking with it.”

In 17 minutes of real time and just over eight minutes of game clock, the Stars went from the doom of divisional loss to a bad opponent to the type of game that may be viewed as a season checkpoint. The Stars entered Wednesday night as Central leaders. Beating the division’s bottom dwellers at home was expected, but how the Stars did it is what took this game from just another two points to a statement win.

“That’s a great win for our group going into the Thanksgiving break,” DeBoer said. “Those kinds of wins galvanize you, they test your character, they test your gumption. It would have been easy to mail it in at the end of two (periods), and go home for Thanksgiving for a day before we went back at it. But we didn’t, and got rewarded for that.”

Digging the hole

Early penalties

Wednesday night’s comeback marked the first time in franchise history the Stars won a game in regulation after trailing by three goals with less than 10 minutes left in the third period. While those results are easy to look at with a smile at the end, that kind of effort is usually required because of a hole that got dug.

The Stars wasted no time digging themselves a hole. Just a hair over two minutes into the game, Jani Hakanpaa went to the box for tripping Patrick Kane. Dallas managed to kill the penalty, as they have so often this season with a penalty-killing unit that is No. 4 in the NHL. Less than two minutes after their kill, though, Esa Lindell took his turn to the box for a hooking infraction. Once again, the Stars held the Blackhawks off the scoreboard on the ensuing power play.

Penalties have been a hot topic for the Stars all season long and they were center stage earlier this week when Dallas took eight in an overtime loss to the Avalanche. The Stars’ lack of discipline has been regularly bailed out this season by an aggressively elite penalty-killing unit. However, the parades to the penalty box are still a significant detriment to the team, even if the opposition isn’t denting the scoreboard too much in those situations.

A minute on the penalty kill is much more taxing on a player’s body than a minute at even strength, and certainly on the power play. These are “hard minutes” that include a lot of sharp changes in direction, not only blocking shots but oftentimes blocking one-timers that get set up, and longer shifts because it can be harder to change if the other team’s power play maintains possession of the puck in the offensive zone.

While the Stars have scored four short-handed goals this season, being on the penalty kill also eliminates a consistent threat of offense. It wrecks the overall time on ice and how minutes get distributed. The more time the Stars spend on the penalty kill, the more ice time goes to grinders than skilled players.

“I don’t PK so you just kind of sit there for a while when there are a bunch of penalties in a row,” Marchment said.

The first period was a demonstration of all of that. Thirteen minutes into the opening stanza, the Stars had taken three penalties (the aforementioned two and then Hakanpaa for fighting) and had zero shots on goal to the Blackhawks’ 10. In the 14th minute alone, Robertson got the Stars’ first three shots on goal, including a strong effort to get the Stars on the scoreboard first:

With the goal, Robertson extended his points streak to 13 games, tying Dave Gagner for the longest mark in Dallas Stars history. Robertson is up to 31 points on the season now, which is the most in the first 20 games of a season in Stars history. His 16 goals are currently tied with Connor McDavid and Bo Horvat for the most in the NHL so far this season.

Uncharacteristic struggles

The second period was worse. First, there was the uncharacteristic nature of Chicago’s second goal, after DFW native Seth Jones got the Blackhawks on the board earlier in the period. Andreas Athanasiou drove the puck to the net and had Heiskanen with him stride for stride. Athanasiou managed to not only beat Heiskanen wide but he also finished past Jake Oettinger, making quick work of two of the Stars’ best players.

On the other side, not only were the Stars struggling to play in the offensive zone, they were losing puck battles everywhere on the ice. They were losing battles along the boards but on the Blackhawks’ third goal, they inexplicably lost a puck battle in the crease as Connor Murphy finished one past Oettinger.

The Stars ended the third period down 3-1. Coming into Wednesday night, the Stars were 10-0-0 when leading after two periods and 0-3-0 when trailing. They had yet to overcome a multi-goal deficit this season and, outside of Robertson, hadn’t shown much in the way of inspired hockey in the first 40 minutes.

Anatomy of the comeback

Despite their poor performance, the Stars were upbeat in the locker room during the second intermission.

“We talked at the end of the second period that we felt there were three or four goals out there for us, if we decided we wanted to come out and play,” DeBoer said. “Sure enough, they were.”

As for the message among the team, Marchment said it was “just winning those battles in certain positions, getting in the O-zone, not letting them have easy exits and stuff like that.” The Stars looked better in the third period but it appeared that Domi had put them away with his goal. Instead, Domi was the catalyst for the start of the comeback.

This sequence was entirely the Jamie Benn Show. The Stars captain drew the tripping penalty on Domi shortly after the Blackhawks went up 4-1. At this juncture, the Stars were running short on time if they were going to get any points out of the game. Scoring on the power play was obviously the goal but doing it on the front end would be ideal as opposed to spending too much time figuring things out with the puck. The first step to that is winning the draw. Benn took the faceoff and won it clean:

Robertson uncorked a shot that didn’t score but loosened up Chicago’s penalty kill. Once the Stars got the puck back, one of the key discussion points during the intermission was put to test. Robertson, Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz won the puck battle along the boards:

Benn did a good job of making himself available across the ice and Hintz did a good job of delivering the pass. Benn took one second to collect the puck before unleashing a laser that beat Petr Mrazek short side.

“(Momentum) is huge, especially when the crowd gets going,” DeBoer said. “Once we got that power-play goal and the crowd started to go, you could feel it. I don’t know on the road if you win that game. I think the crowd was a big part of that in the third period.”

The goal was the other side of the coin in a reminder of maintaining penalties. The Stars were buzzing and just needed a break to get things rolling. Chicago’s penalty handed it to Dallas on a platter. To the Stars’ credit, after their three-penalty flurry in the first eight minutes, they didn’t commit a single penalty the rest of the game.

Mason Marchment’s snipe

Marchment got off to a hot start this season, scoring six points in the first four games. In the next 11 games, Marchment had just two points, one goal and one assist. He’s found his scoring touch once again in the past five games, in which he has five points.

Denis Gurianov got the secondary assist on Marchment’s goal but he was a primary reason for it happening. Gurianov missed two weeks with an upper-body injury and returned to the lineup on Wednesday, where he was slotted into the second power-play unit in place of Nils Lundkvist. Sticking to the theme of puck battles the Stars discussed internally during the second intermission, Gurianov, using his speed, was relentless in hounding the puck and winning the battle along the boards. He kept the pressure on deep into Chicago’s zone behind the net, where he then passed it off to Tyler Seguin:

From there, Seguin quickly found Marchment right in front of him. The Stars’ prized 2022 free-agency acquisition quickly fired off a shot that beat Mrazek and brought the Stars within one.

“I love that shot,” Marchment said. “I love sitting there and waiting for it to come to me. It was a great pass by Seggo and I’m lucky it went in.”

Professor Pavelski’s student

About fifteen minutes before the Stars were scheduled to take the ice Wednesday morning for morning skate, Pavelski was already on the ice, as he usually is, setting up camp in his office in front of the net. He wasn’t alone. Ty Dellandrea was right there with Pavelski, as each took turns redirecting shots from Joel Hanley:

“This morning was kind of just raising it in tight,” Dellandrea said. “That’s mainly what we were working on and finished with tips. Just all reps. He’s made a living of working on reps. It’s not the first year. He’s out there early at practice, doing it, every year cumulated over a bunch of years. That’s why he’s so good and still producing at this age. He works at it every single day.”

Earlier this season, Dellandrea scored a net-front goal in Arizona and credited watching Pavelski do his thing. Dellandrea said that Pavelski grabbed him a few games ago after the Stars returned from their road trip last week and actively took Dellandrea under his wing to help him get better.

“(He’s) getting a lot of good advice but he’s smart enough, as a young player, to use the resources around him,” DeBoer said of Dellandrea. “That’s what I like about him. He’s recognizing the wisdom in that room from different guys and he’s using that. You’d think that would be normal but it’s not a lot of times the case.”

DeBoer has a strong relationship with Pavelski, dating back to their five years together in San Jose when Pavelski was DeBoer’s captain. DeBoer arrived with the Sharks at a time Pavelski had already solidified himself in the NHL but throughout his journey, Pavelski received mentorship from the likes of stalwarts in Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. Now, at 38 years old, Pavelski is returning the favor.

“Joe does that on his own,” DeBoer said. “He was looking at his shifts. I’ve talked about him being an extension of the coaching staff, I think as he’s come into the twilight of his NHL career, I think he’s really taken a hands-on approach. When you talk to him, I think he feels it’s payback for what he received when he came in from some of the guys that worked with him.”

Pavelski has helped advance the developments of Robertson and Hintz individually and helped form what is one of the elite lines in the NHL, collectively. He volunteered to house 19-year-old Wyatt Johnston as the rookie learns the ropes of the NHL. Wednesday night, when Dellandrea redirected a Hakanpaa shot in for the equalizing goal, Pavelski didn’t get credit on the scoresheet but his impact was draped on the score.

“It’s just instincts,” Dellandrea said. “Just been working with Joe. That one wasn’t even off the blade or anything, it was just kind of instincts, try to get a stick or something on it whenever I can. Those touches in the morning definitely help.”

Delayed gratification

Things settled down momentarily after Dellandrea tied the game up but the AAC was still buzzing from the goals poured in by the Stars. As the game clock ticked under two minutes left in regulation, Colin Miller found an opening from the top and just put a shot on goal. Mrazek was unable to coral it, creating a rebound opportunity around the net. The Stars had a number of these earlier in the game but nobody was ever home to finish the goal.

This time, Radek Faksa was there. The centerman who has been stuck anchoring a designated checking line in recent seasons has now scored four points in the last five games. The latest was a strong hustle play that wasn’t immediately acknowledged. Dickinson was hovering around the goal line and tried to clear the puck, similar to what Ryan Suter did for the Stars two games ago. Dickinson, though, was too late.

“I wasn’t sure because I was kind of behind the goal line,” Faksa said. “I knew at least half the puck was in but I couldn’t tell if it’s all the way. Right away, when I came on the bench, they told me it’s in because they saw it on the video. So, I was just happy, big relief and big turnaround.”

Real dagger

Turns out, Domi’s goal to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead was not the dagger. That goal came courtesy of Robertson in the waning seconds of the game:

Scoring distribution

2G (Robertson) — 1A (Hintz) — 1A (Pavelski)
1G (Marchment) — 1A (Seguin) — Kiviranta
1G1A (Benn) — Johnston — 1G (Dellandrea)
1A (Gurianov) — 1G (Faksa) — Glendening

Heiskanen — 1A (Miller)
1A (Suter) — Lundkvist
Lindell — 2A (Hakanpaa)

.871 save percentage (Oettinger)

Three plays

Here are three non-scoring plays that stood out.

Robertson’s effort

There are many things to be impressed about with Robertson but at the top of the list should be his unselfish effort, which, ironically, often results in good things for him individually. Before he scored the empty-netter at the end, he was laying out on the ice to take away passing lanes and then somehow also passing the puck up the ice for one of his teammates to benefit from an empty net goal.

Shortly after Hintz missed, the puck found Robertson and he easily deposited it in the net for his second goal of the game.

Slick move

This play didn’t quite have the finish but when Robertson made this move through traffic, the entire arena gasped alongside him.

Ryan Suter’s 2-on-1 breakup

In the second period, with the game tied 1-1, two of the Blackhawks’ best players in Kane and Domi created a two-on-one opportunity against Suter. The Stars’ veteran defenseman neutralized the threat instantly and didn’t allow them to even get near the net, let alone get a shot on goal.

Bonus: Hit on Dellandrea

In the first period, Jarred Tinordi laid out Dellandrea along the boards in front of the benches.

This led to Hakanpaa immediately fighting Tinordi to stick up for Dellandrea, a bout Hakanpaa fared well in.

“I kind of take those now and again, and guys are sticking up for me, which I love, but I’ve got to put myself in better positions,” Dellandrea said. “But I always appreciate when Jani or (Jamie Benn) or anybody steps up for me. A lot of respect … I’ve just got to know he’s coming. It was a quick play, I didn’t really have my head up. I was just focused on getting it in. I’ve got to be more stable and get my head up when those hits come.”

This absolutely was a clean hockey hit that did not deserve a penalty. However, I do wonder if the NHL can make more of an effort to protect players when it comes to head injuries without taking from the joy the physicality brings to the game. This particular play seems tough to guard against because Dellandrea does have his head down and he’s also just smaller in stature so it’s bound to look worse.

The NHL has a troubling track record of diminishing head injuries and their long-lasting effects so this sort of thing is probably ways away from being considered, if at all. But there should always be efforts being made to limit head injuries and improve protocol and the NHL can be better there.

(Photo: Jerome Miron / USA Today)


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