As we sit and look back on the 2020-21 Dallas Stars season, we cannot help but feel it was a disappointment. They failed to even qualify for the postseason after coming so close to winning it all in 2020, losing in the Stanley Cup Final. Although they were hit with a plethora of injuries, this was a team that was capable of more. Throughout the year, they had many moments that felt like rock bottom. However, as with any season, there were some shining moments as well. The moments that fans and players will remember when finding their motivation and excitement for the following years. Here is a look at the top five moments that stood out among the rest of the 2020-21 Stars’ season.
5. April 26: Jamie Benn Overtime Winner vs. Carolina Hurricanes
With the month of April coming to an end and the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the horizon, the Stars had battled their way back from the abyss and sat only two points behind the Nashville Predators for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. With Nashville seemingly winning every night, it was vital that Dallas did the same. Coming into a huge home game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas was 7-1-2 in their last 10 contests. The challenge ahead would only get tougher as many of their final games came against the top teams in the division.
Benn began his heroic night by drawing a penalty in the first minute and picking up the secondary assist on the ensuing power-play goal from Pavelski. He followed that up by winning a battle in the corner to find Esa Lindell at the point, who hammered a shot that Jason Dickinson deflected to give the Stars a 2-0 lead in the opening period. Carolina found a way to battle back and tie the game at 2, but it was short-lived. Briefly, after the tying goal, Benn picked up his third assist of the night on a nifty pass to Denis Gurianov, who pounded home a one-timer to give the Stars back the lead. After Carolina tied the game once again in the third, the two teams headed to overtime, where Dallas had struggled mightily all season. It seemed to be destined for another blown lead and overtime loss as Stars fans had grown accustomed to in recent weeks.
Instead, Benn continued his dominant performance into overtime. Robertson led a 2-on-1 and made a nice pass to get the puck to the captain in front of the net. Benn showed off his slick hands as he pulled to his forehand and slid the puck underneath a sprawled-out James Reimer, capping off a four-point night and a monstrous win for Dallas. It had been a tough start to the season for the Dallas captain, but he had shown new life since the beginning of April when his team needed him most.
“I think he loves these situations where he can put the team on his back and say ‘Let’s go,’ and he’s been doing that for a long time this season,” head coach Rick Bowness said. “It’s great to see. He’s giving us great leadership on the bench, in the room, and it’s nice to see him get rewarded.”
4. March 9: John Klingberg Scores in First Game as a Father vs. Chicago Blackhawks
The Stars had hit a bit of a rut lately and were looking to get their offense rolling as it did early in the season. The good news that came a few days earlier was that John Klingberg had become a father with the birth of his daughter, Elsa. The Stars celebrated this by pumping six goals past Malcolm Subban and the Blackhawks on home ice during a night where everything went in their favor. It started with a Joel Kiviranta goal just 1:41 into the first period and continued from there. The night was capped off when Klingberg scored his first goal as a new father on a seeing-eye shot from the point. Pavelski was quick to scurry to the net to retrieve the puck for one of the most important milestones for his teammate.
“Like I said before, we are brothers,” Klingberg said. “We have been through a lot together, ups and downs. We are sticking up for each other and helping each other out. It’s nice to see that he goes to pick up the puck. It’s going to be a special memory for me.”
Klingberg was all smiles as he answered questions in the postgame press conference, his large, toothless grin shining from ear to ear. The smile was even brighter when Benn brought in a personalized “Daddy #3” Stars jersey and held it up for the cameras to see. It was an important win for the Stars, who were in the thick of a playoff race, but perhaps an even more important milestone for the new Dad on the team.
3. January 28: Jake Oettinger First Career Win vs. Detroit Red Wings
After the announcement that Ben Bishop would miss at least three months of the 2020-21 season, Jake Oettinger knew he would have his shot. The 22-year-old played in mop-up duty in the 2020 playoffs but had yet to taste his first real NHL action. His first start came in game four of the season against the Detroit Red Wings. The Stars were 3-0-0, looking to sweep the first homestand of the season. They were sporting their brand new ‘Blackout’ jerseys for the first time, and their offense was on a roll. Pavelski extended his point streak to four games, scoring the opening goal in the first period. From there, the Stars scored three more times, earning a healthy 4-1 third-period lead.
Oettinger would get his first taste of adversity, though, as Detroit scored two goals in the third to come within one with plenty of time remaining. A few minutes later, fellow rookie Ty Dellandrea tapped in his first on a beautiful pass from Miro Heiskanen to extend the lead back to two. Dallas added two more goals to put it out of reach with their second seven-goal performance in four games. The Red Wings did not severely test Oettinger, but the night would prove to be the first of what looks to be many wins in a Stars sweater for the kid. The night included seven different goal scorers, the first career goal for Dellandrea, and a 20-save first career win for Oettinger to move the Stars to 4-0-0 on the young season.
“I’m really lucky to be in the position I am,” Oettinger said. “To have such a great group of guys in front of me who played so well for me tonight, it means everything to me.”
2. January 22: Conference Champions Banner vs. Nashville Predators
After the dramatic run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020, opening night in 2020-21 was a long-awaited moment. COVID-19 had a massive impact on the beginning of the NHL season, just as it did the year prior. For Dallas, the season was delayed four games due to many players testing positive for the virus. The Stars opening night would now also be their home opener against the Nashville Predators.
The pandemic also affected the feel of the games, as very few fans were allowed to attend, if any, around the league. While all of this took away from the evening, it was still a very special moment for this team. Every other team in the league had now played games, and Dallas was going to have to hit the ground running against the Predators. The night began with the announcement of the roster as well as the raising of the 2020 Western Conference Championship banner.
The limited capacity crowd erupted for the heroes of the playoffs, and although they were scarce, they gave the Stars something they had not heard since their final game before the COVID-19 shut down nearly a year ago: cheers. The game began as many Stars’ games do, with a scoreless first period and some huge saves from Anton Khudobin. However, from there, it was nearly perfect. The Stars erupted for four quick goals in the second period, beginning with Joe Pavelski on the power play. Alexander Radulov and Denis Gurianov followed, giving the Stars three power-play goals in the second period. Esa Lindell added the exclamation point with a shorthanded goal that all but eliminated any hopes of a Nashville comeback.
The show rolled on as Dallas tallied three more goals in the third to end the night in a lopsided 7-0 fashion. Their power play led the charge, scoring five of the seven goals in the game. This was a massive win to start the season that began with so much adversity.
“When your team is off a little bit, as we were in the first, you’re going to need your goaltender — and Dobby was great, he made the big saves,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “The power play gave us confidence but Dobby’s play gave us confidence, as well. We certainly needed Dobby in that first period.”
1. March 25: Roope Hintz Game-Winning Goal vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Stars had a huge monkey on their backs when it came to the Tampa Bay Lightning. After being shut out in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, Dallas finally had a chance for revenge as the new division alignment slotted both teams into the Central Division. While the prospect of playing Tampa Bay eight times was promising, it started out in the opposite direction for Dallas. In their first two games, Tampa Bay shut out the Stars 5-0 and 2-0, respectively, which made it three straight games in which the Stars had not beaten Andrei Vasilevsky. In the next two games, Dallas put up a much better fight but still fell, dropping their record to 0-3-1 against the Lightning on the season. Then came the fifth matchup on March 25 in Dallas.
The game looked to be headed the same way as Tampa Bay took a 2-0 lead early in the second period with Stars’ rookie Jake Oettinger in the net. However, with the help of a miraculous save from Oettinger, Dallas would flip the script and answer with three straight goals to finish the period with the lead over the defending champs. After a complete first 15 minutes of the third period, it seemed likely that Dallas would finally hold down their lead and get the monkey off their backs. That all changed when Ondrej Palat tied the game again with only four minutes remaining.
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It felt as though the hockey gods wanted to do everything they could to stop Dallas from defeating their foes. Luckily for the Stars, they were not going to be denied in this game. With 90 seconds remaining in the period and overtime looming, the top trio of Roope Hintz, Robertson, and Pavelski went to work. All three players touched the puck on a tic-tac-toe passing play from their own blue line that led to a breakaway for Hintz, who buried the wrist shot past Vasilevsky.
Vasilevsky quickly saw his 12-game winning streak and run of dominance over Dallas come to an end. It took this highlight-reel goal and every bit of the Stars’ determination to get the job done, but this win feels like the highest point during the season for many reasons.
“We found some moments where we had the puck on some turnovers and made some plays,” Joe Pavelski said. “It was a good win, we need to get those. It’s been a little bit too long this year, so we need to keep building off of that.”
In a season that contained many heartbreaks and letdowns, these moments shined as those that brought the most excitement and cheer from the fans and the team. While the Stars failed to make the playoffs in the end, each of these moments held a large amount of hope, whether it was for the present or the future.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!