DALLAS — If the one playoff series that Jake Oettinger played in last season was his coming out party, he spent the entire 2023 season proving that his stellar play in the biggest stage was no fluke during the grind of an entire regular season. Now with the 82-game slog out of the way, Oettinger and the Dallas Stars are ready to embark on a playoff run that they hope will take them much farther than the depths of despair they endured a year ago.
Oettinger, 24, produced a 25-save shutout for his fifth clean sheet this season while another young talent, 19-year-old Wyatt Johnston, scored the only goal of the game to lift the Dallas Stars to a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues in the season finale for both teams inside the American Airlines Center on Thursday evening. The win, for the moment, keeps the Stars in first place in the Central Division, one point ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, who defeated Winnipeg. Colorado plays at Nashville to end the season tomorrow, and the Stars will win the division — and face the Seattle Kraken in the first round — if the Avalanche lose to the Predators. An Avalanche win will give Colorado the division title and send the Stars to a first-round series against the team residing in their ancestral home, the Minnesota Wild.
“I like where our game is. We took care of our business and did what we had to do,” Stars head coach Pete DeBoer said. “If you can’t win the division with 108 points, then hats off to Colorado. We’ll take whoever we end up having to play. Hell of a regular season. I’m proud of our group — where we came from training camp and the grind of the season. You never take the opportunity to play in the playoffs for granted. We did a lot of good work this year to have the season we had.”
Oettinger took over as the No. 1 goalkeeper for the Stars early last season, and, after helping to lead the Stars to one of the Wild Card spots by the end of last season, put on a masterclass in netminding during the first round against the Calgary Flames, capped off by a 64-save performance in Game 7 of the Stars’ 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Calgary Flames. In the offseason, the Stars signed Oettinger to a three-year, $12 million deal, showing enough of a commitment to him being the first-choice keeper, but leaving wiggle room in case he were to falter during his first full season as a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.
All Oettinger did this season was finish in a tie for third in the league in wins, tie for second in the league in shutouts and finish in the top seven in goals against average and save percentage.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Thursday evening’s game, with all photos taken by Dallas-area photographer Ross James. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 24 pictures in total.