The most vital aspect of the 2019-20 Dallas Stars team that ran all the way within two wins of an unexpected Stanley Cup championship was their ability to overcome adversity. The confidence that they could overcome anything within a game or a series allowed them to push the top NHL teams to the brink, never going away until the final horn. Now, in the thick of a playoff race in the Western Conference, the team has re-discovered that swagger, and not a minute too soon.
Stars Ability to Adapt
Dallas has re-found their ability to adapt in the second half of the 2021-22 season. No matter what circumstances are thrown their way, they come out for the next shift and look to bounce back. The most recent example of this came on Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers. With Dallas trailing 3-2 in the final minutes of the third period and all momentum swinging the other direction, they came out hard, pushed, and not only tied the game but took the lead with two goals in under 30 seconds.
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“They’re resilient, this is a resilient group,” Bowness said. “I know we have had some tough third periods all year, we get that. But what is done is done and you play through it. This group will learn to play through those situations.”
Throwing it back to the 2020 bubble, this feels all too familiar. Remember when they were about 10 seconds from trailing 3-1 to Calgary in the first round and then faced a 3-0 deficit in a potential clinching Game 6? Remember when they trailed Colorado in Game 7 with under five minutes remaining? Remember when Vegas took a 2-0 lead and dominated 40 minutes of play in Game 5? Each of those situations forced the Stars to dig deeper than ever before and they responded with clutch goals and huge plays, leading them to victory in all three rounds and a berth in the Final.
This season, the hits have certainly come. The team was forced to take a mandatory pause in December following one of the largest COVID outbreaks in the league. They watched the rollercoaster of Ben Bishop’s possible return leading to an early retirement. Anton Khudodin was sent down to the American Hockey League and eventually had season-ending and possibly career-ending surgery after being the backbone of the team for years. Braden Holtby has been injured essentially since the end of January forcing their 23-year-old goalie to play nearly every game.
And most recently, their future Norris Trophy winner Miro Heiskanen was placed on LTIR with mono, potentially missing weeks at a crucial time. Not to mention all of the distractions surrounding John Klingberg’s future. Still, despite all that has come at the Stars, they simply continue to chip away and respond.
“Other guys have to step up,” Suter said. “Other guys are depended on more. When you lose good players, everyone has to pick up the slack.”
This “next man up” approach is exactly what guided them through the bubble and it is what has Dallas sitting in a playoff spot with 20 games remaining.
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“Yeah absolutely, you have to have that attitude,” Bowness said. “You’ve got to go get it, you’ve got to earn it, nobody is going to give it to us. Everyone keeps winning. We don’t play for a couple of days, everyone wins, and all of the sudden, we had caught Nashville, we had passed Nashville, now we’ve got to catch and chase them again.”
“Once You’re in, I Don’t Want to Face us.”
While many teams like to believe they are built for the playoffs, you cannot argue that Dallas is near the top of that list. They have an excellent mix of veterans and young players, have been receiving excellent goaltending on a consistent basis, their defensive structure and special teams for the most part allow them to remain in tight games no matter the opponent, and their belief and swagger has pushed them through the toughest tests in the past.
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“We’ve been saying from day one that our team, on paper, is really good,” Seguin said. “Paper doesn’t mean anything, so, it’s about putting it all together at the right time. We have a lot of vets on this team, and we know what that means. Once the trade deadline’s gone, it’s the exciting part of the year. You have 20-ish games left. It’s the push and it’s getting ready to try to get into that dance and then get in. Once you’re in, I don’t want to face us.”
Getting in is the key now for this team. While they currently sit in a playoff spot, they have only a single-point advantage over the Vegas Golden Knights and have been helped by Vegas’ poor play along the way. In order to get in, they are going to need to play with consistency and find ways to steal wins and points. Whether it is dealing with adversity within games or on the bigger scale, this team seems built to sneak into the postseason and challenge some of the best teams in the league once they get there.
“It’s playoff hockey right now,” Bowness said. “Until we get that little X by our name, it’s playoff hockey.”