Apr 11, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; A view of the arena before the game between the Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Stars' Most Disappointing Season

A few days ago I mentioned the Puck Daddy “Summer of Disappointment” series they are running and how I thought they got pretty much everything on the list wrong, and that’s okay. Disagreements are the lifeblood of the internet. However, as a professional opinion giver I didn’t think it is fair to say that someone is wrong unless I’m able to show why. With that in mind, I would like to offer my opinions on the worst of the Dallas Stars. Today we take a look at the Most Disappointing Season: 1996-1997.

Think about the feeling when you wait in line at the amusement park for what seems like forever, then you finally get to the ride. This ride is supposed to be the best ride ever, then before you know it, it is over. That is what the 96-97 season was for Stars fans.

Dallas finished the regular season tied for second in the NHL and tops in the Central division, a full 10 points ahead of second place Detroit. They had a then franchise best 48-26-8 record en route to 104 points. They had a great roster of proven performers on offense including Guy Carbonneau, Benoit Hogue, Joe Nieuwendyk, Jamie Langenbrunner and Neal Broten. On defense, the Stars had a great mix of finesse and grit with players like Sergei Zubov, Derian Hatcher, Darryl Sydor and Craig Ludwig.

Mike Modano finished second in the league plus minus at plus 43 and led the team with 83 points. Nieuwendyk had 30 goals in only 66 games. Andy Moog was second in the league in GAA (2.15). Only two Stars who played 10 or more games finished with a negative plus/minus rating. The team had winning streaks during the season of five, six and seven games, and only one losing streak of more than two games. Even though the previous season ended without a playoff berth, the 1996-97 season had Stanley Cup aspirations.

The playoffs started with home ice against the Edmonton Oilers (who finished 23 points below Dallas in the standings). Dallas would grab game one 5-3, leaving many fans confident that round one was just a formality.

Dallas would even the series after game four by a 4-3 margin, then would be put on the brink with of elimination in game five on a 1-0 double overtime loss thanks in large part to a 43 save performance from Curtis Joseph.

Game six saw Modano and Jere Lehtinen combine for 11 shots, two goals and an assist. The Stars peppered Joseph with 41 shots, and he held Edmonton in it, but Dallas eventually won 3-2, setting up a game seven in Big D.

That game seven is still one of the best hockey games I’ve ever seen. Dallas jumped out to a quick lead, scoring just one minute and 39 seconds into the game. In a microcosm of the series, Edmonton scored to tie the game about six seconds later. Dallas would build a 3-1 lead in the second, and could have extended that further if not for some outstanding goaltending from Joseph. I remember a save Joseph made on Modano with about 45 seconds left in the second period that would have stretched a 3-2 Dallas lead to 4-2. CuJo made an incredible stick save, then the Oilers tied it at three with 20 seconds in the frame.

Hard hits, great scoring chances and some of the most incredible goaltending I’ve ever seen were on display that night. After a scoreless third period, the game went to overtime. CuJo could have made a full highlight reel from that game alone. Dallas had multiple chances to put the game away, but couldn’t solve Joseph.

The momentum was on the Stars side, and as hockey fans have seen so often in overtime, a team can dominate for large stretches of the game then it suddenly goes the other way and the game is over. Doug Weight made a simple breakout pass to Todd Marchant. Grant Ledyard tripped over the blue line, sending Marchand in alone on Moog. Marchand went high to the stick side and then suddenly it was all over.

I believe that before a team can win, they have to learn to lose. This loss was crucial to the development of the Stars. They would tweak the roster a bit over the coming seasons, adding players like Ed Belfour, Mike Keane and Brian Skrudland, all of who would play key roles en route to their Cup win in 1999. Great things came out of that loss and that season, but 1996-97 was the most disappointing season for me.

What about you?

As always, I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading and go Stars!

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