The Dallas Stars faced yet another uniquely challenging scenario on Saturday night and once again found a way to come up big. They defeated the St. Louis Blues in overtime, picked up two valuable points, and kept their surge against the Central Division rolling.
The 2019-20 season has been filled with unexpected and unfamiliar gut checks for the Dallas Stars.
Step back to Oct. 18, 2019 for a moment. The Stars are in Pittsburgh for their first meeting of the season with the Penguins. It’s the third game of a lengthy four-game road trip through the northeast, and things aren’t going according to plan. Then again, they haven’t gone according to plan for most of the early part of the season.
As Kris Letang scored into an empty net to push the Penguins lead to 4-2 with 22 seconds remaining, the cameras from the Dallas broadcast turned to the Stars bench. Awaiting the cameras are the looks of disappointment, confusion, and bewilderment on the faces of various players.
Staring them down is a 1-7-1 start to a season that held so much hope just two weeks prior, a lack of consistent scoring besides the early surge of Roope Hintz, and a handful of problems that they just cannot seem to resolve. That was an early, but prominent gut check.
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They then found a way to right the ship. The Stars rattled off a 14-1-1 stretch following the loss to the Penguins and ascended from the bottom of the Western Conference standings to the thick of the playoff picture. The defense and goaltending resumed their states of consistency and dominance from the 2018-19 season, more forwards began to chip in on the offensive side, and Dallas finally looked like the hard-to-beat team that many had projected them to be in the preseason.
Then, head coach Jim Montgomery, who was building something strong with the Stars in just his second season behind the bench, was fired on Dec. 10 and replaced by assistant coach Rick Bowness. And so, another gut check was delivered to the team’s resolve.
But that didn’t phase them either. Since the coaching change, the Stars are 14-8-2. And while there are still lingering complaints about the usage of certain forwards and the lack of consistent scoring, Dallas sits third place in the Central Division with one point separating them from second.
There have been miniature gut checks as well. The 0-3-1 skid that followed the 14-1-1 push. Being outplayed in the three games leading up to the NHL Holiday Break. Giving up the first goal in 31 of 55 games so far. And how about Friday night at home against the Minnesota Wild?
After scoring early and packing a 2-0 lead on home ice, the Dallas Stars watched as the Wild slowly turned the tide and tie the game on two goals of their own. And with 27 seconds remaining in regulation, the Stars lost the hope of at least picking up a point when Joel Eriksson Ek buried a wraparound to gain the 3-2 advantage.
The Stars lost a valuable chance at points against a divisional opponent well below them in the standings and were bumped down to third place by the Colorado Avalanche. It was a painful reminder that any team can win on a given night and that even after a 3-1-1 stretch to exit the All-Star Break, their positioning in the standings was all but solidified.
But Dallas had little time to stew over the loss. They boarded a plane bound for St. Louis on Friday night and prepared for a Saturday night matchup with the Blues, a team that had already beaten them twice in the 2019-20 season after knocking them out of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. As much as there was a desire to avenge last season’s shortcomings, the focus was geared more towards simply getting back on track after a tough loss.
And by mid-afternoon on Saturday, another gut check was delivered as the announcement came down that Rick Bowness was ill and would not be able to coach in the game against St. Louis.
Losing any coach can cause a shuffle, but losing the head coach hours before puck drop can often bring about a scramble.
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But, as they have done many times before, the Dallas Stars didn’t let it affect them. Instead, they suited up under assistant coach John Stevens and took the ice to wrap up a divisional back-to-back.
The game didn’t start the way they wanted, but it also didn’t start in an unfamiliar way. Colton Parayko tacked on two goals in the first 10:49 of the opening period to give the Blues a commanding 2-0 lead. The Stars, being used to early deficits, merely charged on, showing an impressive amount of energy, composure, and focus considering the situation.
Shortly after a six-shot power play that didn’t result in a goal thanks to the goaltending of Jordan Binnington, the Stars went back on the man advantage and drew within one when Jamie Benn deflected a Mattias Janmark shot behind his skates and past Binnington.
The Stars entered first intermission in a 2-1 hole, but seemed to be on track for another one of their usual surges in the final 40 minutes of the game.
And after a scoreless third that involved quality scoring chances by both sides and some timely saves by Binnington and Anton Khudobin, the Stars plunged into overtime for the fourth time in the past seven games.
There, it took all of 2:19 for Miro Heiskanen to gather the puck in the Dallas zone after a scoring chance by the Blues, take it to just inside the St. Louis blue line, and drop it for Hintz who, after an extended shift, found a way to send it past Binnington for the game winner.
Gut check received, and gut check survived.
With the win, the Dallas Stars once again shook off adversity and bounced a challenging opponent in a tough situation. They shifted to 31-19-5 on the season, moved back within a point of the Avalanche (who had won earlier in the night) for second place in the division, and improved to 7-3-1 on the second night of back-to-backs.
"“This group has done a really good job in terms of professionalism when handling some tough situations this year. Today was another example of that.” — Stars assistant coach John Stevens"
But that’s not all that they achieved. In addition, the Stars picked up their first win of the season against the Blues and now have at least one win against every Central Division team. They are 11-6-2 against the division this year, giving them the most divisional wins of any team in the Central. With two more games against St. Louis and a matchup with Chicago scheduled for later this month, points against the division are becoming all the more valuable as the playoff race tightens.
“They’re a great team and the Stanley Cup champs,” Benn said of the Blues. “We’re going to see them a couple more times. We have good games against them and good battles, and it was nice to get two points here tonight.”
The Dallas Stars once again proved that, in tough situations that don’t include a roadmap, they can still find a way to succeed. That skill becomes all the more important as the Stanley Cup Playoffs draw nearer, especially when playing within your division.
With the win, the Stars now sit six points back of the Blues for the top seed in the Central and Western Conference as a whole. Two more games against St. Louis before March could greatly alter that picture, but that remains to be seen at the moment.
For now, however, Dallas is back to showing off their resiliency in the face of adversity and demonstrating their ability to counter challenges. With that being said, they showed that they can go stride-for-stride with the best of the NHL and come up big in divisional matchups.
“It’s a huge win for us,” Perry added. “It’s definitely a stepping stone in the right direction. Coming off last night, a disappointing loss in the last minute, but we came in and showed them we can play with this team, and we played pretty well. If we continue that, we’re going to be fine.”