Bishop bounces back, Stars catch Predators with Game 4 win

Bishop bounces back, Stars catch Predators with Game 4 win
DALLAS—In the delirium of the green-tinted, laser-spewing, euphoria-inducing American Airlines Center on Wednesday night, the Stars authored a story of redemption.

In their most important game of the season, a 5-1 win in Game 4 over Nashville that evened the first-round series at two games apiece, the Stars removed the doubt that followed them after Monday night’s loss to the Predators.

Dallas netminder Ben Bishop stood tall in Game 4 against Nashville, making 33 saves.  (Ronald Martinez / GETTY IMAGES)

Redemption called Ben Bishop’s name. Bishop is the Stars’ No. 1 goaltender, and potentially the best one in the league, maligned by an uncharacteristically leaky performance Monday night when he surrendered two soft goals in an otherwise strong game from Dallas.

On Wednesday night, when coach Jim Montgomery showed faith in starting him again, Bishop responded with a 33-save victory. It was Bishop’s return to the normally steady goalie he’s been all year, when he led the league in save percentage and goals against average.

Redemption called Todd Nelson’s name. Nelson is the Stars assistant coach in charge of the power play, which entered Wednesday night goal-less in their last 11 opportunities with the man advantage. In losses in Games 2 and 3, the Dallas power play was scoreless in one-goal games.

On Wednesday night, Nelson’s power play scored three times in the first period, jolting the Stars to a four-goal outburst in the opening period and chasing Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne from the game. The 3-for-6 performance was perhaps the best showing of the season for the power play after an ill-timed mini-slump.

Game 4 offered Bishop and Nelson a chance to erase the errors of games past, to discover solutions and send the Stars back to Nashville with the series tied instead of facing potentially the last game of their season in Game 5.

Roope Hintz scored twice — his first career playoff goals — while Alexander Radulov, Mats Zuccarello and Andrew Cogliano also scored for the Stars. It led the Stars to their largest playoff win since 2003. Game 5 in Nashville is Saturday afternoon.

In the playoffs, goaltending and special teams can be vital variables. With both, teams can steal wins. Without either, the margin of error disappears.

Bishop —with his six-foot-seven frame and elite hockey sense —is typically in the correct position in the crease. He reads plays and reacts swiftly. On Monday night, he was handcuffed by a Rocco Grimaldi floated from the boards, and beaten by a Mikael Granlund prayer from the point. They were atypical goals and were absent Wednesday night in Game 4.

Bishop was sound structurally, if left untested for much of the game. He is now 11-3 in games after a playoff loss.

Nelson, meanwhile, is in his first season with the Stars and directed a power play that was 11th in the league during the regular season at 21 per cent. On a per 60-minute basis, the power play was one of the 10 best in the league across a variety of metrics.

As the Stars wasted power-play chances in Games 2 and 3, the responsibility for an underperforming power play fell to Nelson. He tweaked and attuned the power play.

Nelson moved players around in the offensive zone. He tried different zone entries with Miro Heiskanen instead of John Klingberg. Jason Spezza made his return to the power play. Justin Dowling briefly elevated to the top unit. Hintz and Radulov and Zuccarello were used on both the first and second units.

The attempts were there. On Wednesday, so were the results.

Hintz tore the monkey off Nelson’s back with a first-period wrister into the top corner of the net just 3:42 into the game. It was part of a reworked power play that moved Radulov to the second unit. On the next power play (and the next Stars shot), it paid dividends when Radulov’s fluttering shot sailed by Rinne.

Before the game, Montgomery talked about the Stars’ adjustments from game-to-game and about how they decrease the later the series goes.

“It’s funny, as the series goes on, it’s less and less tweaks because the tweaks you’ve tried already have either worked or failed,” Montgomery said. “You’ve either trashed them or you’re trying to build on them. There’s only so much you can do. I find as series go on, the teams that continue to get better, it’s the teams that their will continues to progressively get better.”

With the Game 4 decimation of Nashville, the Stars can claim that they’ve been the better team in the series. They deserved to win Game 1 and lose Game 2. But Games 3 and 4 were all Dallas, even if the results didn’t match the process.

It’s an encouraging sign going back to Nashville for Game 5 to face a reeling Predators team that vowed after Game 3 to be better in Game 4, but certainly wasn’t.
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