The stars get a special match from Miro Heiskanen: ‘He’s everything for us’

SEATTLE — When Stars defenseman Thomas Harley was asked about Miro Heiskanen after the Stars’ 6-3 victory over the Kraken in Game 4 that tied the series at 2-2, he smiled. He exhaled with gravity and threw his head slightly back. And he kept smiling.

“What, he’s going to play 31 minutes tonight?” Harley said. “He makes it look so easy in there. Like, I’ll be on the bench and he’ll do something and say, ‘Holy crap!

Almost Everything may be Heiskanen’s best value sum for the stars. Heiskanen plays quarterback on top of the power play unit, is one of the most reliable killers and eats an absurd number of minutes every night. Heiskanen is arguably the best defender in the world and one of the most complete defenders in hockey.

“All the right things have been said about his style of play,” said Kraken coach Dave Huxtol. “I don’t have anything new to add. He’s a player from hell. You see that in and out night.”

Tuesday night’s game was one of the most defining of Heiskanen’s career, one that painted a great picture of Heiskanen’s greatness, the style of play he plays and the massive influence he wields.

Forty-eight hours earlier, Heiskanen had suffered a “painful cut,” as Stars coach Pete DeBoer described it, on his left cheek. In Game Three, the puck bounced unfortunate off Heiskanen’s face and fell into the Stars net just seconds later to give the Kraken a 1-0 lead. Heiskanen remained on the ice for 30 seconds before he was helped and headed straight into the tunnel. While lying on a table in the stadium’s medical room, Heiskanen heard the goal horn for Kraken’s second goal.

Then the third. Then the fourth. Then the fifth. Then the sixth. Then the seventh.

“I can hear the goal horn, so it feels bad when you’re lying on the table and you can’t do much there,” Heiskanen said. “It’s part of the game, and luckily it wasn’t too bad or too dangerous and I’m back on the ice again.”

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Heiskanen got “about eight stitches” on his cheek and was anxious to get back in the game on Sunday, but the Stars chose to sideline him after the game spiraled out of control. Over the next two days, Heiskanen adjusted to his new circumstances. He wasn’t able to eat much. Didn’t sleep well. When he took to the ice in the morning for skating and then again for a Tuesday night warm-up, Heiskanen sported a massive cage.

“He’s a great athlete,” DeBoer said. “Very competitive. He wants to win. Tough minutes. Tough minutes tonight. What do you say? He’s done it all year for us. He’s one of the best players in the world in this position. He’s a warrior.”

“It didn’t bother me,” Heiskanen said. “I felt good there. It doesn’t matter, I just felt so normal. It feels good to get up from the minutes again and start working again.”

The minutes are definitely up. With half a period remaining, Heiskanen had already played in the 28th minute, while no one else in the match, on either side, had touched the 21-minute mark. Heiskanen finished with 31:02. For those who haven’t watched the match, Heiskanen’s performance will appear to be somewhere between decent and solid. The high minute count catches the eye on the stat sheet but not much else. Heiskanen had one point, a secondary assist on the first goal of the game.

During Heiskanen’s first four seasons, the blow he was taken by many was his offensive production, or lack thereof. It was a career high of 36 points, and even after two seasons were cut short due to COVID-19, his point total wasn’t on track to pass 50. Those who watched Heiskanen, whether outsiders like the media and fans or those on the inside, like players and coaches, knew Heiskanen had more to offer. He was always shining offensive talent, but it never really added to his burgeoning total by the end of the season. Some wondered if he would.

This season, Heiskanen has emphatically put that to rest. He scored 73 points, not only on his way to a career high, but breaking Hall of Famer Sergei Zubov’s franchise record. This was the season many of Heiskanen’s staunch defenders were looking to point out his brilliance. Heiskanen took the offensive blast in stride, more like a feather in his cap than something he felt justified. Justification through offensive finesse was not something Heiskanen craved.

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That brings us back to Heiskanen’s one-pass performance on Tuesday in Seattle. In the third minute of the game, Heiskanen shadowed Morgan Geekie on an extended pass and canceled the play into the wall. He engaged Geekie and dropped the Kraken forward onto the ice while separating him from the puck.

Later in the first period, Heiskanen put a clinic within a minute. Kraken got a CD move towards Jake Oettinger with a pass across the ice. Heiskanen, skating backwards, took the perfect angle on Jaden Schwartz and took him wide to the outside and around the net before releasing the puck again.

Less than 30 seconds later, Kraken had two players in the hole with Jimmy Benn trailing both. They tried to feed the disc to the middle. Heiskanen is out of harm’s way.

A sequence in the third period drove home the point around Heiskanen better than anything else. Skating backwards, Heiskanen patrolled the far right half of the ice. Justin Schultz also received a pass in the bottom of the Reverse In a circle, Heiskanen was already in his grill and disrupted his flush by directing the puck into the right wall. Heiskanen then continued the action and hovered around on the outside under the net. As soon as the goblin took off, Schwartz chased after it. Instead of chasing down, Heiskanen allowed Schwartz to reach the puck. Then he used his stick to send the puck back towards the blue line. Heiskanen immediately stayed attached to Schwartz, who went to the front of the grid by way of Oettinger. Heiskanen hooked it, and when the shot came, Heiskanen’s stick was the first to touch the puck and returned for movement in the other direction.

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“This is my mindset every time I step on the ice,” Heiskanen said. “Defense first and offense comes from that. Of course, I’m a defenceman, so I want to be good in our area and I want to play good defense, and then jump on offense. It’s always on my mind first. (Defense) both (mental and physical). It’s Mental stuff too, but at the same time, try playing with your stick and taking in the time and space. Both at the same time.”

When the best player in a team has that kind of mentality, does his job and is focused on the team rather than personal glory, it has an impact throughout the dressing room.

“It’s what wins this time of year,” said DeBoer. And your best players have to lead the way. Miro, Joe Pavelski, those guys, they never cheat because of offense. Roope (Hintz) I’d put him in that category too. These guys wouldn’t put their offensive game ahead of their defensive responsibilities. When your best players have that Mental, this kind of blood will circulate in your group.”

The Stars had a solid response in Game 4 when they needed it most. It did not come without adversity. Jani Hakanpa was a late scratch with a lower body injury and Joel Hanley was asked to field again. Mason Marchment lost the game early in the first period, which resulted in the Stars having to play almost the entire game with 11 forwards. At one point, that number dropped to 10 when Bean briefly left the game after being stabbed in the eye.

Oettinger rebounded with a stellar game. Max Dumy led the scoring with three points. Bean and Evgeny Dadonov each got two points, as did Harley and Hintz.

Then there was the No. 1 defenseman, playing with a swollen cheek and a large gash on his face guarded by a fish bowl. finished with help. But as is routinely the case, he was the best player on the ice.

(Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

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