Will Game 6 lead to a 7 Heaven?

Marc Elliott

 Anton Khudobin

BIG SANDY LAKE ... It’s Sunday night, and I have been contemplating how tomorrow night’s Stanley Cup Final Game six will unfold. On Saturday evening, the Dallas Stars were in a must-win situation. They did just that in a spectacular 2 Overtime win. The Stars prevailed over the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 3-2 thriller. Corey Perry scored the first, and the GWG for the Stars. And Joe Pavelski got the middle tally to establish himself as the all-time American playoff goal-scoring leader. Pavelski now has 61 career playoff goals to pass Joe Mullens 60.

Tampa still holds a 3 games to 2 lead in the series with Game six slotted for Monday night. A Stars win will even the series and send it to a “seven heaven” on Wednesday evening. Just because I don’t want to see the tournament come to an end just yet, and because that will mean no hockey for a couple of months, I’m hoping for a game seven. Can the Stars get there?

Well, I’ve been impressed by their resolve so far. Few analysts or even fans believed that Dallas would make it as far as the Final. They ignored the doubters and kept forging ahead. They won the Conference Final against the Vegas Golden Knights 4 games to one. Before that, they beat the Calgary Flames in the opening round 4 games to 2. They went seven games in the 2nd round against Colorado but prevailed in an epic G7 overtime win by a 5-4 score. Then came the Vegas surprise, and here they are.

It is often said that just about every team in the Cup tourney has a chance to win. It is also known that this particular event is a war of attrition. And if it is, who has enough juice left to bring home the big silver prize waiting at the end of this beatdown machine? That’s what I’m considering tonight.

Both clubs are riding their current netminders without the aid of their back-ups. Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevsky is the consensus number one in Tampa. In Dallas, Ben Bishop, the team’s number one, is out and will probably not be suiting up for game six or a possible game seven.

This has elevated the Stars Anton Khudobin into some unfamiliar territory. So far, for the most part, he has handled it very well. The former Minnesota Wild 2004 draft pick has won 14 games  and is only 2 more away from the big silver trophy.
The last game the club used Bishop in, G5 versus Colorado, was a disaster of sorts. Big Ben gave up 4 goals in a bit under 14 minutes of play and was yanked. We haven’t seen him since. In his defense, his mates gave up 19 SOG in that brief amount of time. So, except for a brief respite for Khudoby when the team was on the short end of a game and used Lakeville’s Jake Oettinger, Khudoby has been the man.

I’d say that Vasilevsky has been the better of the two; he’s a more technically sound goalie. But make no mistake, the Stars are where they are because Khudoby has come up big when needed. So, back to this wear and tear assessment. I’d say that in G4, Khudoby looked a bit tired. The rest of the club did as well. They dropped that game in a 5-4 OT decision. I guess I might also add that fatigue must be setting in on the officials as well. It was an unevenly called contest with some officiating mistakes.

In that same tilt, and maybe even in G5, the Bolts Victor Hedman was starting to show fatigue. Of all skaters left in the tourney, he is the TOI leader at 26:31 per game average. That could be an essential factor. I’ve seen a couple of Finals in the recent past where a team’s “big man” succumbed to the wear and tear factor, and their club didn’t make it to the promised land. I’ll be observing big Victor’s play in G6 intently.

For the Stars, I’m seeing some fatigue on some of their players as well. Their wunderkind defender Miro Heiskanen has not looked as effective the past two games. On the other hand, a handful of the Stars older veteran players seemed to be finding a second wind and thus some new life in their games. Corey Perry notched 2 scores last night, Joe Pavelski had one, and Tyler Seguin had an assist on each of them. For the Bolts Kucherov, Point, Killorn, etc., they had uneven performances in G5. The SC wear and tear factor might be about to have a significant impact on who wins this tournament.

What would my call be for the epic G6 tomorrow eve? I’ve already gone on record stating that I’m hoping for a seven heaven for Wednesday night. Can the Stars get this done and make that happen? I’d say that they have an excellent chance to do so. Despite Tampa dominating the play and offensive zone time in both OT periods last night, they couldn’t dent Khudoby. Is that a sign of fatigue? In my opinion, yes. The Stars were able to make it to the proper spots and do just enough obstructing to help Khudoby out.  I believe they may have a bit more left in the tank at this time. Not much, but a little bit.

Whoever wins, I’ll watch, knowing that I’ve just witnessed the most unique sporting event ever held. The National Hockey League, Commissioner Gary Bettman, the NHLPA, and everyone involved with making this event happen, deserve a massive round of applause. Let us not forget to thank all Hotel and Restaurant personnel at the Toronto and Edmonton sites for their hard work. They often go without thanks for all that they do. Those are some hard jobs there, I know.

This entire event has been in a “bubble” since mid-July, and the league has not incurred one positive COVID test yet. That is significant and remarkable. The planning and logistics alone have been on a scale unwitnessed before in pro sports. Thank you, NHL; thank you, teams and thank you to every player who has put on an excellent show for us ...

WHEN THE NEXT NHL season commences, the Minnesota Wild will begin to have a different look on the ice. The changes are overdue, of course, but sometimes making them can be hard to embrace. It’s human nature to resist that, so we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s taken a long time for the team to finally hit the turn blinker. Club owner Craig Leipold is the lone figure who decides the club’s philosophical direction. I’d say that his overall psychological profile has made some team decisions challenging to enact.

That’s not to say that he makes decisions alone or has an inferior mindset. He doesn’t. Loyalty and tradition are two of his strong points. Sometimes in pro sports, that’s good and sometimes not. Perhaps as this year wore on, he finally realized his club needed to get on a different railroad track. I say “bravo” and about time ... PEACE