The Dallas Stars season didn't end on Wednesday night, but forgive the fans and the players for feeling that way.
After taking a 3-2 lead with just about six minutes remaining in the third period, it looked as though the Stars would beat the Anaheim Ducks in this crucial battle for the West's final playoff spot. Trevor Daley's power play goal seemingly put the Stars on a collision course with that final spit, but in a Finnish Flash, that all evaporated.
With time running down and Ducks goalie Ray Emery on the bench, Dallas couldn't get the puck out of the zone. With just six seconds left, Anaheim's Teemu Selanne added another notch to his Hall of Fame legacy.
How exactly did that happen? For the answer, we need to go a little further back than NHL.com's video highlight there allows us. To the video room!
We'll give you the visual since you can't see the tape. With about 40 seconds left on the clock, Saku Koivu picked up the puck in his own end. His stretch pass to Bobby Ryan along the near boards didn't connect, but Ryan got a big enough piece of the disc to negate the icing call. It went in behind the net, where Kari Lehtonen came out to play it.
Now the puck took a funny carom off the end boards and came basically right back to Lehtonen at the side of the net, which you can see here. We'll let you know now that this clearing attempt from Lehtonen doesn't get out of the zone, and in hindsight it's certainly easy to say "well, he should've done this."
But, well... that's our job. The mistake Lehtonen makes here is that he doesn't have much space to get his weight behind the clearing attempt. He moves about half a step towards the boards after the still image above before he makes the clear, but he's jammed up in that small area between the net and the side of the trapezoid.
He can't step into his clearing attempt, and as a result, he doesn't get nearly enough on it, Ryan is able to corral it along the boards and dish it out to Corey Perry for a shot from the top of the circle. Lehtonen makes that save, but we'll get to that in a second.
Let's stick with that decision to throw the puck up around the boards to the near camera side for now.
The wise move from Lehtonen here on this clearing sequence would be to dish the puck off behind the net, where as you can see above, he has numbers in his favor.. For starters, he'd be putting it on the stick of Stephane Robidas, that player in green closest to the Dr. Pepper logo on the boards.
Secondly, throwing it off the glass and out is a much riskier proposition. Not only is Lehtonen in a poor position to get everything on the attempt from a shot standpoint, but the puck can obviously bounce funny and it's a lot less certain of a situation.
It also doesn't help, obviously, that it's two Ducks on one Star in that corner should something go wrong. If Lehtonen would have dumped it off behind the net instead, the Stars would have numbers and almost certainly would have chipped the puck out of the zone.
But okay. Yeah, fine, Lehtonen messed up here in hindsight, and as a result, the Ducks got a prime scoring chance. What does that have to do with Selanne's game-tying goal? Well, thanks to the failed clear after this initial Ducks dump, the Stars wound up icing the puck after Perry's scoring chance, leading to a defensive zone face off.
The Stars win the faceoff and get it back behind the net. Jamie Langenbrunner ties up his man at the dot, too, and really, from there, with just 21 seconds on the clock, the game should effectively be over.
FYI, this is where the Selanne goal video picks up.
Alex Goligoski picks up the puck and circles behind the cage. There's literally nobody, save Lubomir Visnovsky, on the entire near side of the ice. So what's Goligoski do? Instead of taking an extra step (which he has over the chasing Perry) to step around the goal and clear the puck directly to the open blue line, he does the same thing Lehtonen did by trying to clear it off the boards.
Visnovsky, positioned out at the blue line, is going to stop that puck nine out of 10 times.
And that's exactly what he did. It was the best chance the Stars had in the last 20 seconds to clear the zone and they couldn't do it, thanks to a poor decision by Goligoski. As a result, the Ducks battled for the puck along the wall and actually lost that battle to Brendan Morrow, who again didn't have much of an opportunity to clear.
The puck found its way to the corner, and that's where Koivu picked it up and walked in front of the net. After the initial save, the rebound found its way to Selanne, who rammed it home to tie the score.
From there, the Ducks had all the momentum and the Stars were toast. On a two-on-one in OT (which was basically dominated by Anaheim), Cam Fowler beat Lehtonen to give his team two points.
Instead of sitting in playoff position now, the Stars are on the outside looking in. They can thank a few failed clears and just plain old poor execution in the final minute for the result, too.