Few things are duller than hockey games where neither team has anything to gain. It is with great surprise, therefore, in which it can truly be said that Saturday's play-out-the-string contest between the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars was a pretty fun one to see. No, the Hockey Hall of Fame will not be saving the tapes for posterity, but for two teams that had nothing to play for, it was a spirited, reasonably well-played game, won by the Stars 4-3 in a shootout.
It was almost as if players from both teams said: "Hey, we're all making huge money playing a kid's game. Let's go out and look like we're having some fun in life." Say what you want about the Avs of 2016-17, but at least we can say this: They didn't just mail it in during the final few weeks. That said: The game meant nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
The Stars were arguably an even bigger disappointment this season than the Avs. They were the defending Western Conference regular-season champions, after all, but they will be playing golf starting Sunday. They had 109 points last season, but entered their final game Saturday with just 77 points. Expect some changes in Big D over the summer.
The Avs overcame a 2-0 deficit with three straight goals, taking a 3-2 lead into the final minutes. But Tyler Seguin tipped a puck past goalie Jeremy Smith to even it up. Smith made two big saves on Jason Spezza on an overtime breakaway, but he had no answer for Jack Klingberg's wrist shot from the slot with 1:07 left, after Klingberg waltzed around Matt Duchene from the left circle.
Stars fans exulted in the win, but hold the phone: The goal didn't count. The Avs challenged it, claiming the play was offside. Lo and behold, replays showed Seguin was indeed offside, so Avs players came from out of the tunnel to play on. On to a shootout it went, and things got off to a bumpy start for the Avs when Duchene, with Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen fully deked, failed to lift the puck over his pads into a mostly open net.
Seguin beat Smith clean on the forehand, and Lehtonen stopped Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen to get the extra, meaningless point. It was the Stars' first shootout victory of the season.
Smith clearly is not an NHL-caliber goalie to this point, finishing up with a 1-7-0 record in his first season. But this loss wasn't on him. He kept his team in it with a strong first period, one in which the Avs put just four shots on Lehtonen.
The Avs' goal-scorers were Rantanen, Gabe Landeskog and MacKinnon. For Rantanen, it was the Finnish youngster's 19th of the year. One more game to get a chance at 20, which would make him the one and only Av to hit that marker. Rantanen, who was questionable coming in with a sore right foot, was outstanding overall.
Avs fans looking for positives in this one can also look no further than rookie J.T. Compher, who assisted on MacKinnon's goal and nearly assisted on a game-winner at the overtime buzzer when he nicely set up Duchene in front. Rookies Duncan Siemens and Anton Lindholm also held their own defensively, with both making some big hits.
Colorado will mercifully see its season finish in St. Louis Sunday, with Calvin Pickard expected to start in goal against the playoff-bound Blues.
The Avs might not win in. They probably won't, in fact. But at this point, with this particular group on hand, one thing seems assured: