Let the nightmares — from four years ago and from last spring, from early October and from the start of August — return.
It's the Stars. It's the second round. It's Game 7.
That's the situation the Stars have put themselves in after Wednesday night's 4-1 loss to Colorado in Game 6, another wasted opportunity to eliminate the wounded Avalanche and advance to their first Conference Finals since 2008. Instead of celebrating the halfway mark to the Stanley Cup, the Stars are preparing for Game 7 on Friday.
It was an uninspired performance for the Stars on Wednesday night when the occasion called for a merely good one against a third-string goaltender. They didn't need to be extraordinary or remarkable, not against a journeyman goalie like Michael Hutchinson. They needed to be simply be pedestrian against a team that by the end of Game 6 was missing a top-line forward, a top-four defenseman, their starting goalie, their No. 2 goalie and three depth players.
They couldn't muster it.
The Avalanche's top line again outshined Dallas', as Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanten each finished with a goal and an assist. Meanwhile, the Stars top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov managed three combined shots on goal.
"We need more o-zone time," Seguin said. "The effort is there. Our execution just hasn't been there. Obviously, a lot of penalties the last few games, so you lose some rhythm, but that's no excuse at this time of the year. We've got to find a way to help our team. We can win games as a line. Put it all in the past now. One game, winner take all. It's going to be a good one."
Seguin is goalless in three games, Radulov in four. Benn's three-game goal streak stopped Wednesday night.
"Need them to produce, it's as simple as that," Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said. "That's what we talked about after the game. Their top players are producing and our top players are not. Listen, don't sugarcoat it: It's what it is. Your top players have to carry you at this time of the year. They've got to produce."
The once stalwart Stars defense has now allowed Colorado back into the series by surrendering 20 goals. It lost coverage of Cale Makar on his second-period goal, and allowed too much net-front traffic on Nikita Zadorov's first-period goal.
The Stars offense that hummed through Calgary in the first round and buzzed through Colorado on its way to a 3-1 series lead has gone quiet once again, and Wednesday's game was the first time the Stars failed to score twice in more than two weeks.
Despite another goal from Miro Heiskanen for Dallas, Makar shined bright for Colorado as well in Game 6 with a goal of his own.
Now, it's a do or die Game 7 for the Stars in the second round, just as they faced in 2016 and 2019 against the Blues. They lost both times, including in double overtime last year.
"We all know what happened last year," Seguin said. "We're in this position, a chance to win it in Game 6 on home ice. I guess technically, you can say tonight was home ice. Game 7, we lost last year. We've got a chance to redeem ourselves and I definitely do think as an organization we've been trending in the right way, obviously. This is the next step. It's going to be a big one for us in a couple days."
A win would get this core, led by Benn and Seguin, over the hump and into the final four. A loss would keep them stagnant, standing in place as division rivals pass them by.
Moving to the next round could have ramifications on the coaching staff, who still operate under Bowness' interim tag. Another loss could conclude that this roster, as currently constructed, isn't good enough to truly compete for a Stanley Cup. The Stars' aging veterans don't have time to waste opportunities to advance in the playoffs.
In a season that has encapsulated so much drama — the putrid start and finish, the mid-season coaching change, the Winter Classic, the four-months of elite play, the recent goalie controversy — it comes down to Game 7 to avoid an epic collapse.
"We made the game easier for that team for the most part than it should have been," Bowness said. "We put ourselves in this position. We're in Game 7, we're in Game 7. Deal with it. We've just got to make it a harder night for that whole team over there."
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