After flunking in Manitoba on Tuesday night, the Dallas Stars bounced back in a big way on Thursday at home. They won 3-2 in overtime against the Winnipeg Jets and looked like a much better team. A large part of their turnaround came from a boost in emotion. That will be all the more important moving forward.
There was a common word tossed around by various Dallas Stars players and head coach Jim Montgomery during postgame interviews on Thursday night. While responded and big win were popular phrases, the word emotion seemed to be set to a constant echo as each player and coach addressed the media.
There was a good reason for that.
Just two days after playing what Montgomery called their “worst game of the year” in a 5-1 loss to Winnipeg, the Stars rebounded and responded in an emphatic way. They finished a home-and-home against the Jets with a 3-2 win in overtime, and there was a lot to like about how they played.
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It’s funny how quickly things can change.
“I thought we played with really good emotion throughout the entire game,” Montgomery said. “I thought it was important that we responded and we did respond. I really liked the way that we came out and went after them.”
After dropping in a deflating and somewhat unexpected fashion on Tuesday night, the 2019-20 Dallas Stars quickly sank back into questioning. They had spent the month of November rebounding from a 1-7-1 start with a 14-1-1 surge, but had since fallen into an 0-3-1 slump.
They were four games above .500 and sat in the first wild card spot, but the rest of the Central Division and Western Conference were catching up. The Stars had fallen into an offensive slump, their defense looked less focused and structured than usual, and they couldn’t seem to access the overwhelming and suffocating style of play that had carried them through November.
And on Tuesday in Manitoba, Dallas looked completely lost. The Jets were quicker on pucks, used more physicality, and set the tempo for the game at the opening puck drop. Meanwhile, the Stars seemed content with chasing them across the ice and hoping that lady luck would side with them.
As a result, the Stars dropped a humiliating 5-1 loss as the Jets’ top players took control. Mark Scheifele continued his four-year hot streak against Dallas, Patrik Laine made a comment about wishing he could play the Stars every game so his statistics could receive a sizable boost, and Dallas left Canada in search of answers that had seemed so prevalent and obvious just eight days prior.
“We were flat in Winnipeg the whole game,” Blake Comeau said. “It felt like we were just chasing and we couldn’t get a forecheck established. We were over top of pucks and they were creating everything.”
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But on Thursday, they shifted the tide in their favor. The Stars were the more aggressive team, looked sharp in all three zones, and came rambling out of the gate at the opening puck drop.
“I think we showed each other how we have to play,” Comeau added about Thursday’s win. “The game in Winnipeg was a polar opposite. It kind of looked like we were waiting for the other guy to do it and were kind of taking the easy way out. Tonight, it was a hard-fought game and physical.”
As a result, they secured a 3-2 win in overtime and drew within one point of third place in the Central Division. They probably should have won in regulation after holding the lead for all but 19:12 of regulation (including the first 18:27, which was scoreless), but getting the second point was of mass importance.
“The guys were invested tonight,” Pavelski added. “The emotion that came out of this game was good to see. It was a good four-line game and the goalies were solid. We would’ve liked to get the two points outright; but at the end of the night, that extra one was huge.”
It proved to the Dallas Stars that they could still win big games against tough opponents. It proved that Jamie Benn, Denis Gurianov, and Joe Pavelski could still find the back of the net after going through scoring slumps and left the door open for others to do the same. It showed the Stars that they can control games and set the tempo.
"“We have a lot of character in this room. After our effort in Winnipeg, we weren’t ourselves and it wasn’t our team. We responded tonight.” -Jamie Benn"
All it takes is a little bit of emotion.
From the opening puck drop, there was a sense of emotion, physicality, and even nastiness lingering between the two teams on the ice.
After a battle to poke the puck in at the Jets’ goal line just 2:08 into the first period, a miniature brawl broke out between the two teams. Tempers flared, players tied up with one another, and a handful of jabs were thrown.
That scrap would set the precedent for the game, and the Stars fully invested in it.
Blake Comeau got into a handful of high-spirited bouts and skirmishes with Mark Scheifele. Gurianov and Nathan Beaulieu almost got into a fight in the first period, which later led to Gurianov flipping Beaulieu’s stick out of his hands during the second period. Benn laid a thundering hit on Scheifele in the third period and got into a stick war with Laine a few seconds later before heading to the bench.
Dallas played a heavy forecheck game, dug their heels in, and got scrappy. They did everything that they didn’t do on Tuesday in Winnipeg. And as we witnessed, it paid off in a substantial way.
The Dallas Stars ended the night with a decisive 30-19 advantage in the hits column, won the shots battle 39-38, and dominated the overtime period when they could have lost all of the wind in their sails due to Scheifele’s game-tying goal with 45 seconds remaining in regulation.
"“A big part of it was just having a good start and being a little more emotionally involved and engaged. We were more of a physical team than we were in Winnipeg. I think that’s when we’re playing our best hockey is when we have guys playing physical, we’re checking well, and we’re creating chances that way.” –Blake Comeau"
That all has to do with emotion and energy. And while it wasn’t present in the Stars’ game plan on Tuesday, it was the central theme on Thursday.
But, as Montgomery pointed out during his postgame chat with the media, there is a difference between “playing with emotion” and “playing emotional.” Playing with emotion is a good thing and is encouraged in the locker room, while playing emotional can lead to some unnecessary consequences.
“The line is not being reckless with your emotion and getting carried away,” Montgomery explained. “We were in scrums and we were physical, but I never thought we took needless penalties. Usually when you get emotional, you throw a punch at the end of a scrum or something like that. We were in there and we were together, but we weren’t being emotional.”
The Dallas Stars looked like their old selves on Thursday night, and a lot of it had to do with intensity and emotion. Dallas came out with a determined mindset, put the Jets on their heels, and set the pace for the game. As a result, the Stars looked like the better team for much of the game and picked up an important win to break a skid.
That intensity and emotion will be important going forward. Three more games remain on the Stars’ current homestand, and all three present different challenges.
The Stars’ overall game is one that thrives on defensive consistency and wearing down an opponent. Just as important and critical is high levels of emotion and energy on a nightly basis.
When Dallas can access that level, they are a dangerous team. The key is finding a way to access it on a nightly basis.
A little emotion never hurt anyone, after all.