As Joe Pavelski’s storied career perhaps comes to an end, Stars lament missed opportunity

EDMONTON — Tyler Seguin’s voice caught. Wyatt Johnston’s eyes watered. Pete DeBoer’s face sank.

Coming this close to the Stanley Cup Final and coming up short was excruciating. Feeling like they had failed Joe Pavelski was somehow worse.

“Don’t ask about Joe,” Seguin said with a sad laugh as he welled up a bit.

If Sunday night’s 2-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in Game 6 of the Western Conference final was the last game of Pavelski’s career — and it sure sounded like a real possibility based on the way his teammates spoke of him afterward — it’ll be a tough one to swallow. Pavelski had a postseason to forget, with just one goal and three assists in 19 games. The man with 1,068 career regular-season points and 143 more in the playoffs didn’t register a single one in the Oilers series.

But his impact on the Stars these last five seasons was immeasurable.

“Since Day 1, since he’s been in here, he’s meant everything to our group — on the ice, off the ice, all our golf games,” Seguin said. “He’s improved all of those. Just an amazing person to have in here.”

DeBoer called it “the absolute privilege of my coaching career to coach a guy like that.” Captain Jamie Benn called him an “all-time teammate.” And Johnston, who at 21 years old is barely half Pavelski’s age (the veteran turns 40 next month), was in tears when discussing the man whose family he’s lived with since entering the NHL.

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

Joe Pavelski didn’t register a single point in the Stars’ playoffs series vs. the Oilers. (Leila Devlin / Getty Images)

It was another near-miss 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 were constantly contenders. You don’t play in 201 career playoff games by accident.

And Pavelski’s not the only veteran who lost a golden opportunity for a first championship. Ryan Suter is 39, Benn is 34, Matt Duchene is 33, Seguin is 32. There will be more chances for those last three, for sure, as the Stars are built for the present and the future. But this was the top team in the Western Conference, a team that checked every box with its talent, its depth, its structure, its blue line, its goaltending. It was supposed to be their year.

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

“Hockey’s hard, you know?” Seguin said. “You need a lot of things to go right. You need to have that opportunity. We had that opportunity. We went through a gantlet and beat some really good teams (Vegas and Colorado) and knew we had something special. Lost to a team that we thought we could beat, and sometimes that’s the playoffs. Sometimes it’s that one bounce, one goal, one save. That’s why we all love it. That’s why this is the hardest damn trophy in the world to win.”

Johnston, in just his second postseason, has years of chances ahead of him. And even if the Stars start shedding some veterans through attrition and free agency, he believes the team is well set up for future runs.

“A lot of really good guys who have a lot of hockey ahead,” Johnston said. “And even our older guys have a lot of really good hockey ahead of them. It’s hard to look into the future right now and look past (tonight), but it’s definitely exciting.”

Seguin was all raw emotion in the wake of the loss, a mix of appreciation and devastation. Hockey’s like that.

“There’s a lot of emotion right now, a lot of disappointing, but heck yeah, (we) had a ton of fun, too,” he said. “We had a blast being in these big moments, guys grinding, and the ups and downs. I love this s—. So that was awesome. … 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 this taste, and get ready for next year.”

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

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