June 20, 2024

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With Joe Pavelski’s career coming to an end, the stars are lamenting the missed opportunity

With Joe Pavelski’s career coming to an end, the stars are lamenting the missed opportunity

EDMONTON — Tyler Seguin’s voice is on fire. Wyatt Johnston’s eyes filled with tears. Pete Debord’s face sank.

Coming to and coming out of the Stanley Cup Final was painful. Feeling like they let Joe Pavelski down was somewhat worse.

“Don’t ask about Joe,” Siggin said with a sad laugh, feeling a little exasperated.

If Sunday night’s 2-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final was the final game of Pavelski’s career — and it certainly seemed like a real possibility based on the way his teammates talked about him afterward — it would be a tough one to swallow. Pavelski had a postseason to forget, scoring just one goal and three assists in 19 games. The guy who had 1,068 points in the regular season and another 143 in the playoffs never scored a single point in the Oilers series.

But his impact on the stars over the past five seasons has been immeasurable.

“From day one, since he’s been here, he’s meant everything to our group — on the ice, off the ice, and in all of our golf games,” Seguin said. “He’s improved all of those. Just a great guy to have here.”

De Boer described it as “the absolute privilege of my coaching career to coach a man like that”. Captain Jimmy Benn described him as his “constant teammate”. Johnston, who at 21 is barely half Pavelski’s age (the veteran turns 40 next month), was tearful when discussing the man who has lived with his family since entering the NHL.

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“I can’t thank him and his family enough for what they did for me,” Johnston said.

Joe Pavelski did not score a single point in the Stars’ playoff series against the Oilers. (Lily Devlin/Getty Images)

It was another failure in a career full of them for Pavelski. He reached the Stanley Cup Final twice, once with the San Jose Sharks in 2016 and once with the Stars in the 2020 bubble here in Edmonton, but his teams have been consistently competitive. You don’t play in 201 career playoff games by accident.

Pavelski is not the only veteran who missed a golden opportunity to win the first tournament. Ryan Sutter is 39 years old, Ben is 34 years old, and Matt Duchene is 33 years old. There will be more opportunities for those final three, for sure, as the stars are built for the present and future. But this was the top team in the Western Conference, a team that checked every box with its talent, depth, structure, blue line, and goaltending. It was supposed to be their year.

But an 0-for-14 performance on the power play, coupled with four goals allowed on the power play in Games 5 and 6, doomed them to another season of what-ifs. The Stars outscored the Oilers 35-10 in Game 6, the largest shot differential and fewest shots allowed ever in a series-clinching loss. Until the end, when they peppered Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner with shots in a frenetic six-on-five game, they believed they would somehow win the game, the series and the Stanley Cup.

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“Hockey is hard, you know?” Said Sijin. “You need a lot of things to go well. You need to have that opportunity. We had that opportunity. We went through a challenge and beat some really good teams (Vegas and Colorado) and realized we had something special. We lost to a team that we thought was “We can beat him, sometimes it was in the playoffs, sometimes it was one rebound, one goal, one save. That’s why we all love it and that’s why this is the hardest title in the world to win.”

Johnston, in only his second season, has years of opportunity ahead of him. Even if the Stars start shedding some veterans through attrition and free agency, he believes the team is well prepared for future runs.

“There are a lot of good players who have a lot of hockey in their future,” Johnston said. “And even the older guys have a lot of really good hockey players. It’s hard to look at the future now and look back (tonight), but it’s definitely exciting.”

Seguin was filled with raw emotions in the wake of the loss, a mix of appreciation and devastation. Hockey is like that.

“There’s a lot of emotions right now, a lot of frustration, but yeah, we’ve had a lot of fun too,” he said. “We had a blast having these big moments, guys grinding, the ups and downs. I love that — so that was great. … Unfortunately, you have to lose a lot to win in this league. I don’t know why it’s like that, but (you have to) learn some Lessons, keep that taste, and prepare for next year.

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(Top photo of Joe Pavelski and Connor McDavid: Cody McLachlan/Getty Images)