A lot went wrong for the Dallas Stars in the first 39 minutes of their game against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. But in the final 21 minutes, just about everything went right. And in those 21 minutes, the Stars checked off a lot of boxes and got a firsthand look at what they must do to succeed.
Before we dive into talking about the Dallas Stars and their current standing in the early part of the 2019-20 season, let’s chat about haunted houses for a minute.
With it being Halloween, there are a number of memorable and traditional experiences that people indulge in. From going trick-or-treating in your neighborhood as a child, to dressing up and going to Halloween parties as an adult, to even watching a scary movie at home, there’s always something to do on Oct. 31.
One of the most exciting and thrilling experiences, though, is navigating through a haunted house. You deliberately spend money on a ticket and commit to 30-45 minutes of jump scares, unexpected turns, and an eerie sense of uncertainty and fear. It’s a fascinating concept when you think about it, but is nonetheless one that many (including myself) latch onto every October.
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And while haunted houses are filled with frights and scares they can also help unveil a person’s true character. In other words, when someone is cornered by a zombie with a chainsaw, how do they respond? Do they collapse into a ball and beg for mercy? Do they scream and make a dead sprint for the next hallway? Or do they take a breath, make a quick decision, and figure their way out of it before diving into the next scare?
By the same token, when they are faced with a dark maze and no certainty as to what lies around each corner, how do they approach it? Do they give up and head for the exit? Or do they come up with a plan, grit their teeth, and use pure will and determination to find their way through the nightmare?
The point is: when someone is confronted with a frightening situation or an uncertainty of what’s around the next corner, they tend to show their true colors. It’s human nature.
And on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center, the Dallas Stars showed their true colors in the face of fear and uncertainty.
In the final chapter of a four-game homestand, the Stars welcomed a struggling Minnesota Wild team to the AAC. Both teams had only four wins in the first month of the season, were multiple games below .500, and desperately needed two points in a Central Division matchup.
The stage seemed to be set in the Stars’ favor. They had won two of three games on the homestand, were 3-1-0 in their previous four games, and seemed to at least have a partial grasp on their identity.
But in the opening minutes of the first period, the thought of Dallas being favored disappeared entirely. Jason Zucker capitalized on a Stars turnover behind their own net and opened the scoring less than three minutes into the game. As the opening period drew to a close, Eric Staal tacked on a power-play goal to push the Wild out to a 2-0 lead at first intermission.
Meanwhile, the Stars were booed off the ice by their fans and entered the locker room in search of a remedy for their unfortunate start. They were down multiple goals, had committed a handful of costly mistakes, and had no sort of chemistry on offense or on their two power play opportunities. They simply didn’t look good.
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As the second period began and Anton Khudobin replaced Ben Bishop in the crease, things only got worse. The Stars didn’t have a shot on net through the first six minutes, the Wild were still controlling possession and setting the pace of the game, and Dallas seemed to have no answers.
And when Ryan Suter tacked on another power-play goal for the Wild and extended their lead to 3-0, the Dallas Stars hit their lowest point of the 2019-20 season. They hadn’t scored a goal in almost seven full periods of play, there was a painfully visible lack of coherence and confidence in the lineup, and they were being chased out of their own building by a team that had been projected to finish well below them in the divisional standings.
That’s when the fear settled in. Would getting shut out by a sloppy Wild team be the final straw? Were significant organizational changes on the horizon as early as Wednesday morning? Was a team that held so much promise heading into the year truly doomed for a nightmare season?
The Stars were in perhaps the most daunting corner of the season so far. The scarecrow with the pitchfork was standing at one end of the hall, while the bloodied clown wielding an ax was closing in from behind.
But in that fight-or-flight moment, the Dallas Stars didn’t cower or give in. Instead, they adopted a new strategy, put their head down, and drove their way to the exit with a 6-3 win.
“Desire, passion, anger, everything,” Seguin said about what sparked the comeback effort. “I don’t think we were playing that bad of a game. Just saw the same story happening again. I think there was a switch that clicked in the second – maybe halfway through. Not many battles we lost from five minutes left in the second [period] to the end of third [period]. A lot of discussion internally the last couple of days and you saw the result of it out there tonight.”
In the final 21 minutes of the game, Dallas scored six unanswered goals for the first time since Dec. 31, 2017. Three came from the stick of Alexander Radulov, who registered the second hat trick of his career after only scoring one goal in the first 13 games of the season. Joe Pavelski logged his first three-point game as a member of the Stars and doubled his point total from the first 13 games. Tyler Seguin, who was ill on Tuesday morning and missed morning skate, also had three points and registered his fourth consecutive multi-point game against the Wild.
Roope Hintz scored a power-play goal and ended another long drought of inefficiency for the Stars on the man-advantage. The defense played with a new determination and camped out in the offensive zone as they drove possession and generated scoring chances. And when Khudobin needed to be good, he was.
Dallas outshot Minnesota 18-6 in the third period, forced the Wild into two more penalties, and rallied the crowd back into their corner as they put on a showing of pure domination.
"“I think they had some momentum, but I think we just sat back. I don’t think we pressured them. We would just chip the puck, and we would change. And they would come skating full speed at us again, and they’d be in the zone for a minute. We’d chip it and change. It was a cycle. That was it.” -Jason Zucker on the swing in momentum"
“Momentum is real,” Staal added. “Momentum in games is real. We had all of it and then it shifted. It obviously helped them the other way.”
And while a shocked Wild team dealt with ghosts and ghouls in their locker room following the game, the Dallas Stars celebrated a triumphant run through the so-called “funhouse” and avoided an implosion.
“We saw our first paper bag head out there in warmups and boo birds after the first,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said, “so that’s frustrating and I guess we deserved it. Like I said, we stuck together as a group in here. Players and coaches, from top to bottom, went out there in the third period with a good mindset of just working hard.”
And while the exhilaration of the win may have you believing that this win cured all of the team’s woes, there is still plenty of work to be done. The Stars are still 5-8-1, have the Colorado Avalanche on deck, and are staring down a tough November slate. Not to mention that the first 39 minutes of Tuesday’s game were less-than-superb.
But while it was one win that helped the Dallas Stars avoid a true scare, it provided them with a blueprint for success moving forward.
The Stars got a firsthand glimpse of what is required of them if they want to continue on this road to victory and avoid the haunted paths.
First off (and likely the most obvious), the Dallas Stars put their offensive pressure on full blast and secured a substantial payoff. They were aggressive on the puck in the third period, rapidly fired shots at the net, and crowded the front of the crease looking for rebounds. As a result, they got some lucky bounces off of Wild players and sticks and turned them into a six-goal onslaught.
The forced turnover by Jamie Benn and feed to Tyler Seguin for the fifth goal was a pinnacle moment for an offense that averaged 1.92 goals per game (worst in the NHL) going into Tuesday night. The Stars looked like the threatening offense with a hefty stock of firepower that everyone expected them to be.
They also got a hefty return from their star players after slow starts to the season. Going into Tuesday’s game, second-year forward Roope Hintz had the same number of goals (6) as Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Joe Pavelski did combined.
That number jumped from 6 to 11 in a matter of 21 minutes against the Wild. The Stars’ best players on paper (and the salary cap) were their best players on offense and defense on Tuesday night, and it paid off in a game-altering way.
“When your players that are supposed to get those points and have done it all their careers,” Stars coach Jim Montgomery said, “when they start to feel it, they really gain momentum for your team the rest of the game.”
“He’s one of the catalysts of this team,” Seguin said of Radulov. “Even when he’s got – I don’t want to say confidence – that swag and that drive and passion, he may be minorly psychotic on the ice. You see it. Right when he got put on our line, every puck that he had a chance to be first on he was first on and every time he had the puck no one was getting it off him.
“In every line, you need that night where someone’s driving the bus. I think he grabbed the bus tonight and obviously glad guys hopped on and followed through the whole game.”
The emotion was also ramped up to a new level. As the Dallas Stars stared down a three-goal deficit with second intermission lingering, something finally snapped. And from Radulov’s first goal to his empty-net tally with 30 seconds remaining, the Stars were the more emotionally-invested, determined, and persistent team.
It was a level of emotion and desire that the Stars haven’t shown much in the first month of the season, but it was on full display as they turned the tide on Minnesota.
And through all of the hype and excitement that comes with a three-goal comeback, the Dallas Stars looked like a dangerous hockey team. They did a lot of things right in the final 21 minutes of the game and proved that when everything clicks, they can be particularly dominant and even scary (in a good way).
A win like that can not only instill confidence in a team, but it can also help in reminding them that they can be good when they do the little things right.
The next step is using the win as fuel moving forward and keeping the blueprint in hand.
“We’ve got to build on it when we win,” Montgomery said. “We’re going into Colorado, a team that’s in first place in our division, and we’ve got to be better than we were tonight for sixty minutes if we’re going to win.”
The Dallas Stars took on a house of horrors on Tuesday night. And while the jump scares in the beginning caught them off-guard, they rebounded and came out of the house with energy and motivation.
And when you think about it, that’s about all you could ask for on Halloween.