It was one year ago today that the Dallas Stars began their journey through the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. And when you consider the current state of things and that the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs were supposed to begin this week, let’s look back and attempt to further grasp at the sincerity of an NHL postseason.
Let’s face it: it’s fun to reminisce.
Whether it be a happy memory that you want to enjoy just a little bit more or an unfortunate one that you want to use as motivation or fuel, reliving and accessing particular scenes from our past lives can provide a certain emotion that most events happening in real time cannot.
And while it may be because of the current state of our world or the fact that the future is so uncertain, it seems as though the past is our best chance at escaping the daily news cycle that keeps us updated on where our world might be headed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s why sports writers and analysts are spending the pause talking about their favorite sports memories or the athlete that first made them fall in love with watching and following sports. When I asked various Dallas Stars media personalities about their favorite moments covering the team on the Locked On Stars Podcast last week, we got a number of different answers.
The Winter Classic was a favorite. Breaking the playoff drought in the 2013-14 season that officially ushered in a new era of Dallas Stars hockey was also pointed out. Stephen Johns returning to the ice after being sidelined for nearly two years with post-traumatic headaches? Jamie Benn winning the Art Ross? The 50-win, 109-point performance in 2015-16 that saw the Stars finish atop the Western Conference standings? John Klingberg‘s series-clinching goal in Game 6 of the first round of the postseason against the Nashville Predators last year?
All were included in some variation. It goes to show that this team has been through a lot of noteworthy moments, even in a small sample size like the past seven seasons.
It’s been fun to read and hear the stories, because it gives all that follow the franchise a chance to step back and remember eventful times.
But now, there are no new memories being created. There are no more big wins, incredible individual efforts, or rapidly-changing storylines. It’s been 29 days since the sports world came to a sudden halt, and they don’t seem to be any closer to returning. And while there is some hope that professional sports leagues may get the chance to resume, there’s no telling how this new landscape might pan out.
Things were a lot simpler and more memorable a year ago.
It was one year ago on this day that the Dallas Stars squared off against the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After clinching a postseason spot in the 80th game of the regular season, the Stars were matched up against the Predators, who had clinched the top seed in the Central Division for the second consecutive year.
The #StanleyCup Playoffs were supposed to start this week and we all miss hockey.
— NHL (@NHL) April 10, 2020
Considering the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs were supposed to begin two days ago but now are in jeopardy of ever being played out due to the pandemic, how about we take a quick dive into the past for today?
Let’s set the stage.
The Stars were heading into a madhouse. Fresh off of a 93-point campaign under first-year head coach Jim Montgomery, Dallas had rebounded from an average start and surged through the final half of the season to claim a playoff spot. While their offense had struggled to score and convert consistently for most of the regular season, their defense and goaltending sat atop the NHL rankings.
And that’s what made their first round matchup with Nashville so interesting. While the Predators seemed to hold a slight advantage on offense, the defense and goaltending looked neck-and-neck. The question centered around which team would find that extra gear during the series and take advantage.
Looking back on it, it could be debated that the Stars found that extra gear in Game 1.
Going into Bridgestone Arena in April is no easy task for any opposing team in search of an advantage in a playoff series. But for a Dallas Stars team that was outmatched in terms of playoff experience/exposure and hadn’t played past the regular season since 2015-16, the task seemed almost too tall to surmount.
And yet, Dallas found a way. Following a first period that saw the Stars surrender a goal to Roman Josi and try to find their footing, they found a way to control the final 40 minutes.
Miro Heiskanen scored an unassisted power-play goal on a shot from the point midway through the second period to tie the game at 1-1. He would go on to skate 23:24 and tally an assist in his first NHL playoff game.
Alexander Radulov helped the Stars take the lead by deflecting Heiskanen’s shot early in the third period. A few minutes later, Mats Zuccarello joined the scoresheet by cashing in on a rebound in front of the net to make it 3-1. And while Dallas gave up one more goal to P.K. Subban late in the third, they eventually shut the door for the 3-2 win.
That included Ben Bishop making 30 saves on 32 shots, Esa Lindell skating a game-high 27:27, eight different Stars players skating in their first NHL postseason game, and the Stars wrapping up a comeback win by playing their style of game, focusing on defensive efficiency and capitalizing on their chances when they arose.
It was a defining win for a team that had been through three years of change, shuffling, and mounting frustration. It also set a standard for what would eventually turn into a six-game series controlled and ultimately won by Dallas.
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There were many memorable moments from that series that still resonate. The quick adaptation to playoff hockey by Heiskanen and Lindell that turned them into anchors on the Dallas blue line throughout their 13 postseason contests. The rise of Roope Hintz as a legitimate NHL goal-scoring threat. Bishop’s .945 save percentage and 1.89 goals-against average that helped lead the charge to a series win. Klingberg’s OT winner in Game 6 that gave Stars fans a chance to celebrate their first playoff series win on home ice in 11 years. The budding rivalry between the two franchises that made the build-up to the Winter Classic all the more entertaining.
It was a series to remember for a lot of different reasons. It’s also a series that serves as a reminder of the sincerity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While we may not have live postseason hockey at the moment, it will be back eventually. But until that day comes, we must continue to do our part in flattening the curve on the virus and helping eliminate the spread.
One year ago today, life was simple and entertaining for hockey fans. The Dallas Stars made it all the more significant with a victory in Game 1 that involved a few breakout performances.
And while we aren’t watching the same race unfold and new stories being woven in the 2020 edition right now, it provides a reason to look back fondly on the 2019 edition and remember all that made it special. It’s also a reminder to continue doing your part so we can get back to following and telling those stories.
Stay safe, everyone.