The last seven days for the Dallas Stars have seen The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in that exact order. Things will need to change back to good quickly as they changed before because the Stars have the two best teams in the NHL coming to town for a Thanksgiving visit.
Last Sunday night the Stars completed a three game road sweep of the teams in western Canada with a gritty 2-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
Kari Lehtonen was fantastic in the game, turning away 42 of 43 shots. He carried the team the whole night and especially during a 20 shot second period. The Stars found the net twice and that was all they would need. They left Vancouver on a 3 game winning streak and having won six of their last seven games overall.
They had climbed within reach of a playoff spot and had begun turning heads around the league with some very spirited and successful play. That was The Good.
After a three day break the Stars hosted the New York Rangers led by former Star Brad Richards. They looked like a team with confidence. They looked like a team with a purpose and an idea of who they were and what they could accomplish.
In the first period the Stars came out firing. They outshot the Rangers 23-6. They bombarded the net and carried the play for the entire period. It was textbook hockey. What did they have to show for putting together their best 20 minutes of hockey they have played all season? They were losing 1-0.
Henrik Lundqvist gave the Stars a taste of their own medicine. Kari Lehtonen had just stolen the game in Vancouver and Henrik was returning the favor. The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner and Olympic Gold Medalist put on a clinic in positional goaltending. No matter what the Stars did he was in the right spot at the right time with the right piece of equipment flashing across the goal mouth.
The Stars had tied the game at one in the second period but early in the third period the Rangers cashed in on back to back shots in just under a minute and the Stars couldn’t recover. Alex Chiasson added one more goal to make it 3-2 but King Henrik held on earning First Star of the game honors and rightfully so.
That was The Bad. Not that the Stars were bad, they played great. Sometimes bad things happen over an 82 games season and you run across a great goalie on one of his best nights and you lose despite being the better team. Sometimes you can even lose entire playoff series that way. How you rebound from those kinds of losses is what defines you as a team.
Do you dwell on the what-ifs or focus on the game play and finer points outside of the score? Which path you choose will define your season.
The Stars then headed to St. Louis with their road winning streak in tow to face the then second best team in the NHL. The Ugly reared its head.
Kari gave up a goal on the first shot he faced and it was all downhill from there. When the final horn sounded the Stars had lost 6-1. Kari had been replaced by Dan Ellis and all of “The Good” they had developed over the previous two weeks was erased by their worst performance of the season. All that was left to look at was The Ugly.
The Stars had a great run but in all honesty it was against some inferior competition. Road wins are impressive against any team but true great road wins come against playoff caliber teams. Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver aren’t at that level. The Rangers and the Blues are definitely playoff contenders and Stanley Cup hopefuls.
They played well enough to beat the Rangers but good teams win road games against the teams they should beat and that’s exactly what the Rangers accomplished. The Blues completely outclassed the Stars. Some experts have them as Stanley Cup favorites and no one would be surprised to see them in the Finals. If the Stars are truly going to compete they have to start winning these types of games.
The Anaheim Ducks skate in to town Tuesday night with the most points in the league. Friday night brings the Chicago Blackhawks who own the second most points in the league. There is no time for the Stars to dwell on the Ugly that just ran them over because more is on the way.
They have to rebound and find their way back to The Good they were in just a few weeks ago after road wins against Boston, Ottawa and Detroit. All three of those are playoff teams with serious Cup aspirations as well.
If they don’t find the solution right away the kind of ugly that is going to roll over them in the next two games will make any chance of a prom date to the playoffs feel very unlikely.