Dallas Stars are suddenly faced with a major problem to reach the Stanley Cup

When Wayne Gretzky says he’s never seen a playoff series like this, you pay attention.

The Great One made that comment on TNT during the second intermission of the Dallas Stars’ Western Conference Finals series against the Edmonton Oilers; it wasn’t empty, “Please watch our telecast” rhetoric.

“The only thing you can figure out about this series is you can’t figure it out,” Gretzky said.

A series that Stars should win is now a series they will be fortunate to win. The Oilers are a problem, and the Stars are in trouble.

One game, and five minutes, after grabbing every inch of momentum in this series, the Stars didn’t give it back as much as the Oilers took it.

On Wednesday night in Edmonton, the Oilers won Game 4, 5-2, and we have a tied series. Game 5 is Friday night at the American Airlines Center. There will be a Game 6, on Sunday night back in Edmonton.

In Game 4, the Stars scored the game’s first two goals in the game’s first six minutes. After that, Edmonton tied it with two goals in the first period, and added two more in the second. Edmonton added an empty-netter with 1:53 remaining in the game.

The Stars team that played brilliantly in their Game 3 win was on the team bus after the first six minutes in Game 4.

The Stars power play was trash, and it gave up a short handed goal. In a series this tight, your power play can’t do nothing.

That Oilers’ short handed goal was the first special teams goal in this entire series.

The Stars should still win this series because they are the deeper team, and they have the better goaltender. This is also the Stanley Cup playoffs, where “deeper” and “better” teams often lose by one goal, and the series.

In Game 4, the Oilers exposed the one area of concern that the Stars addressed a few months ago.

The Stars have one of the top defensemen in the NHL in Miro Heiskanen. After Miro, there is a drop.

Now there could be a drop from the top of Reunion Tower to the bottom of the Trinity River if Stars defenseman Chris Tanev doesn’t heal fast.

With 7:30 remaining in the second period on Wednesday, he did what he does best and blocked a shot. He had three in Game 4, and leads all NHL players in the postseason with 68 blocks. That last blocked shot hurt.

Replays show the puck hit off the back of his right foot. He hobbled to the locker room, and did not return. The Stars called it a “lower body injury.”

It’s better than calling it “The flu,” a “shoulder injury, or “contact tracing.”

Back in late February, the Stars acquired Tanev from the New Jersey Devils in a three-team trade. The trade was a success, as Tanev was one of those “missing piece” type of players.

The Stars aren’t exactly flush with D-men. If Tanev can’t play in Game 5, the options aren’t great.

Jani Hakanpää is unavailable because of injury. Nils Lundkvist will likely be activated, which is almost as exciting as socks for Christmas.

The other options are Derrick Pouliot, who has not played since April 20, and Lian Bichsel, who has never played an NHL game.

This does not address the issue that is the other defensemen, specifically Thomas Harley and veteran Ryan Suter.

Suter was so bad in the 2023 playoffs for the Stars it was discussed, mostly among fans, that he would be bought out. He has been much better in these playoffs, but there have been more than a few times in this series against Edmonton he looks like a 39 year old guy who can’t keep up.

Too often Harley looks over-matched.

After winning Games 2 and 3, the Stars looked like the better team that would advance to the Stanley Cup Final. That could, and still should, happen, but the Oilers are a problem.

The Oilers have the best player in the world in Conor McDavid, and if Chris Tanev can’t play the Stars are in trouble.