There was no self-pity coming from Dallas Stars coach Rick Bowness after his team lost Game 6 to the Colorado Avalanche and squandered a 3-1 series lead.
“We put ourselves in this position. Hey, we’re in Game 7. Deal with it. We’ve just gotta make it a harder night for that whole team over there,” he said after the 4-1 loss to the Avalanche on Wednesday night in Edmonton, Alberta.
After defenseman Miro Heiskanen opened the scoring for the Stars in the first period, the Avalanche scored the next four goals and carried the play for the second straight game. Third-string goalie Michael Hutchinson made 27 saves for his second win in the series, as an injury-riddled Colorado team surged back to force Friday night’s semifinal finale.
“Hutch is our guy. And he’s an easy guy to cheer for. Hopefully he can repeat his performance [for] Game 7,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said.
In Game 5, the Stars were undone by a horrific first period that saw Colorado score five goals. In Game 6, Dallas couldn’t get on track thanks to four consecutive penalty calls in the first two periods.
“It’s not ideal,” Bowness said. “We have too many key guys sitting on the bench. We shot ourselves in the foot with the penalties. Whether they score or not, their best players are on the ice a lot and they’re getting into the game and giving their team momentum.”
Bednar praised his team’s ability to stay out of the box.
“We had just one penalty kill tonight and it was accidental. Much more disciplined on the retaliation-type stuff and more intelligent on how we handled their physicality,” he said.
The top line came through for the Avalanche.
Nathan MacKinnon set up Mikko Rantanen‘s critical goal to start the third period for a 3-1 lead and then scored his ninth of the playoffs into an empty net. Rantanen also set up the tiebreaking goal in the second period by Cale Makar.
The Stars’ top line was silent.
Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov didn’t have a point between them and generated just one shot on goal each. Seguin doesn’t have a point in the past three games. Radulov has just one assist in that span.
“Their top players are producing. Our top players are not,” Bowness said. “Don’t sugarcoat it. Your top players have to carry you at this time of year. They have to produce.”
Anton Khudobin made 20 saves for Dallas in the loss. He was due to have Game 5 of the series off, but starter Ben Bishop‘s return from injury proved disastrous, as he gave up four goals on 19 shots in 13:43 of ice time before he was pulled.
The Game 5 win jump-started the Avalanche’s rally in this series. When asked about Bishop’s status for Game 7, Bowness said he’s “unfit to play.”
The coach bristled when asked if Bishop was rushed back from injury rehab for that Game 5 start, his first since Aug. 13.
“It wasn’t rushed,” he said. “Listen, if you’re trying to make a story out of it, it’s not a story. It’s back-to-back games. Your No. 1 goaltender comes to you and says he’s had two good practices, he feels good and it’s back-to-back, you’re not going to say, ‘No.’ He wants the ball. He wants to go in and he feels good. It’s either him or a kid that hasn’t played a minute in the NHL. Like, that’s not even a story for me.
“Bish wanted the ball. He wanted to go in. He’s the No. 1 goalie. He took Tampa Bay to the finals five years ago. He’s one of the top goaltenders in the league for the last five or six years … it’s not even an issue. If he says he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go.”
Unfortunately for Dallas, this is familiar territory.
The Stars had a 3-2 series lead on the St. Louis Blues last postseason in the conference semifinals. They lost Game 6 by a 4-1 score. They lost Game 7 in double overtime.
“We’ve got a chance to redeem ourselves. As an organization, we’ve been trending in the right way. This is the next step. This is going to be a big one,” Seguin said.