The Dallas Stars are a playoff team. It’s all but assured at this point: they have 41 wins and are seven points up on the ninth-place Arizona Coyotes.
The Vancouver Canucks are not a playoff team. They were mathematically eliminated on Friday night when the Coyotes and the Colorado Avalanche went to a shootout, with the Coyotes picking up a single point in the shootout loss.
And yet, the Canucks were able to beat the Stars and keep them from clinching a playoff spot. Sure, they could clinch as early as Sunday with a Coyotes loss, but that’s what was at stake for the Stars in this game, and they barely got the game into overtime.
It took two third period goals to comeback from a two-goal deficit and there was a lot of luck involved in both goals. While a good team gives themselves more opportunities for luck to go their way, you have to admit they looked pretty vulnerable. At times, they looked like a playoff team, with clean breakouts, crisp passing, and relentless offensive zone pressure, but if I was a Stars fan, I’d be worried.
The Stars are likely to enter the playoffs with the worst goal differential among playoff teams. Their corsi percentage over the course of the season is 48.19%, the same as the Los Angeles Kings, who are the worst team in the Western Conference. They look a little better when it comes to scoring chance differential, but there are some serious causes for concern. I wouldn’t give them good odds to get past the Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, or Calgary Flames.
At the very least, I won’t be picking any Stars in my playoff pool. I decided that when I watched this game.
- Quinn Hughes faced a tougher test than the Los Angeles Kings in his second game in the NHL and it showed. He wasn’t terrible, by any means, but you could tell there was a lot less time and space for him to maneuver out there. The Canucks were out-shot 10-5 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, as the breakouts weren’t quite as smooth for Hughes this time around. He’ll be fine, but the learning curve can be a warped wall sometimes.
- Heading into this game, Tim Schaller had scored just two goals all season. Both came in one game against the Dallas Stars, so it was only fitting that he opened the scoring with his third goal against the Stars and third goal of the season. Schaller must love playing the Stars: he has four goals in eight games against them in his career.
- Schaller had two chances to open the scoring. First he missed the net in tight, but he stuck with the play and battled behind the net before taking a pass from Jay Beagle and showing some quick hands to pull the puck out front, and put a backhand over Anton Khudobin’s skate. It was a nice enough finish to remind you that he had 12 goals from the fourth line for the Boston Bruins last season.
Tim Schaller finds a little daylight on the backhand to beat Khudobin and give the #Canucks a 1-0 lead.— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) March 31, 2019
That's Schaller's 3rd of the season, all of them coming against the Stars. pic.twitter.com/NydO2K6bGd
- “It’s nice to see a guy get rewarded,” said Canucks head coach Travis Green after the game. “He’s had a tough year. When you’re coaching, you still understand that these guys want to do well and he’s not happy that he hasn’t had a good season and, quite honestly, it’s hard to tell a guy that he’s not playing...for me, that’s one of the worst parts of coaching. When a guy gets in and scores, you feel good for him.”
- Sven Baertschi has missed 54 games this season with a brutal concussion and the later emergence of post-concussion syndrome. It’s been a long road back for Baertschi, but he looked like never left in this game. In just over ten minutes of ice time, Baertschi had a big impact while playing with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. He was the only Canucks forward with a positive shot differential in this game, scored a goal, and hit a post.
- “I’m just really blessed and happy to be around the guys again and play hockey again,” said Baertschi. “I’m not taking anything for granted here."
- Baertschi made it 2-0 midway through the first period after Boeser broke up the Stars breakout in the neutral zone. Baertschi picked up the loose puck, then brushed off John Klingberg like he was Jay-Z and Klingberg was some dirt on his shoulder. The finish was cheekier than a Kardashian, as he calmly slipped the puck along the ice through Anton Khudobin’s five-hole.
- “I’m coming at a D that’s sorta flat-footed,” said Baertschi, “and that’s when the eyes get realIy bright and you get excited as a forward...Once I was past him, I looked at Petey and then I looked at the goalie and I just saw the five-hole right away and I just went for it.”
- The hero of the game for the Canucks was clearly Jacob Markstrom, who was magnificent in the Canucks’ net. He made 38 saves on 40 shots through overtime, then stopped all eight shots he faced in the shootout. The only pucks that got past him were not the least bit his fault and he was a repeat offender when it came to highway robbery.
- Markstrom had a fantastic save on a Tyler Seguin one-timer late in the third period that had Seguin literally biting his stick in frustration. For Markstrom, none of the saves stand out, however. “You can’t really get carried away and look at the clock — there’s two minutes left, one minute left, it’s a tie game — you gotta stay in your bubble,” he said. “It’s very cliche, but there’s not really secrets. You’ve gotta stay save-by-save, whenever that save happens, you’ve gotta move on, there’s coming more shots.”
Jacob Markstrom with a nice save late on a blast from Tyler Seguin to force OT.#Canucks and Stars tied at 2 after regulation. Hear the 3-on-3 action next on #SN650! https://t.co/mDLZc4njsd pic.twitter.com/nq6NgAAevw— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) March 31, 2019
- Khudobin had some fantastic saves of his own. Like Danny Ocean with Terry Benedict, Khudobin robbed Adam Gaudette twice over. He snagged a Gaudette one-timer with his glove, then kicked out a rebound chance in the crease, both in the second period. It’s been 17 games since Gaudette last scored a goal, but if Saturday is any indication, a goal is coming his way very soon.
- Luke Schenn has been lauded by Canucks fans for his physicality, as he plays with the kind of edge fans were always hoping to see from Erik Gudbranson. That edge was missing on the Stars’ first goal, however, as Schenn watched while Cogliano got three chances in front. Markstrom stopped the first two chances, but couldn’t stop the third; Schenn badly needed to take the body instead of fishing for the puck.
- The Stars tied the game when Alexander Radulov’s backdoor pass hit Troy Stecher’s skate and went in. That’s just plain bad luck, but the goal seemed inevitable with the way the Stars were pressing.
- It was frustrating to see Hughes get so little power play time in this game. The first power play unit never seemed to leave the ice, even when they’d been on for over a minute. On four power play opportunities, Hughes played 54 seconds, most of it regrouping in the defensive zone after the first unit had seen the puck get cleared down the ice.
- The kid Canucks — Pettersson, Boeser, and Hughes — were once again together in overtime and once again showed a little razzle dazzle in the offensive zone. It wasn’t quite as impressive as their performance on Thursday, but they had the puck on a string in the offensive zone and Hughes just missed the net on a chance for his first career goal. The shift was ended when Pettersson was blatantly tripped by Radulov, with no call.
- The lack of a penalty call was a running theme for Pettersson in this game. He got hit away from the puck on a first period power play, then accidentally-on-purpose elbowed in the head by Roman Polak in the second period. He had something to say to the refs about that in a later stoppage, but it continued in the third when he was interfered with away from the puck, with no call. It seems like the referees are also getting ready for the playoffs.
- Khudobin and Markstrom went save-for-save in the shootout, sending it into the eighth round before Markus Granlund finally broke through with a nifty deke to the five-hole. Markstrom has been monstrous in the shootout this season, with 37 saves — 20 more than the next best goaltender. That’s partly due to opportunity, as the Canucks have been in so many shootouts, but mostly because he’s been so dang good.