Stars shine in shootout win vs. Nashville, creep up standings

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 7: Jason Spezza
ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 7: Jason Spezza /

Though the Dallas Stars are still going through some growing pains, victories like Saturday’s show they’re learning how to win.

It’s no secret that the Dallas Stars struggle with the heavyweights in their own division. In fact, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, they’ve been downright horrid. Every time a WInnipeg, St. Louis, or Nashville pops up on the schedule, it’s a guaranteed loss. Going into Saturday’s game, their record against those three sat at a pathetic 0-6.

To make matters even worse, Nashville skated into American Airlines Center having won their previous two games against the Stars in blowout fashion, 4-1 and 5-2. Every time Dallas seemed to take a step forward, a humbling tumble back to earth awaited when they tried to take a swing at the divisional stalwarts.

Saturday night started off no better. Nashville scored in the opening minute of the first period. This put the Stars on their heels. Sure enough, the Predators scored again to take a 2-0 lead. It looked like the same old song and dance, and it got me to stewing a little. I rejoice and despair in this team’s fortunes. My eyeballs tell me we’re seeing a different, better version of Stars’ hockey. There’s structure here that didn’t exist before. Then why are they so good against some teams and so bad against others?

I continued to sit there and sulk under a storm cloud when the game took a turn in the latter stages of the first period. Despite storming to a 2-0 lead, the Predators were very charitable and gifted Dallas several power plays. The Stars finally made them pay when Jamie Benn found Tyler Seguin on the right dot. Seguin’s quick wrist shot found its way passed the Nashville goalie and stanched the bleeding.

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Something flickered on in the Stars after that. Maybe Ken Hitchcock waved a gun around in the locker room in the first intermission. I don’t know, nor do I care. For whatever reason, the game devolved into a primal, playoff-like meat grinder that was extremely fun to watch. Further, it showcased the kind of hockey the Stars need to play in order to keep up with the big boys in their group. Dallas did blow a late lead, which is a troubling trait they’ve displayed lately. But they dug deep in the overtime period and killed off two penalties to keep the game tied. Their efforts would be rewarded in the shootout.

Goalie Ben Bishop thwarted both Nashville offerings. Winger Alexander Radulov and Seguin both scored. In the aftermath, the Stars swarmed Ben Bishop. The whole thing really felt like they’d just won a playoff game. Of course, Saturday’s game doesn’t hold any weight compared to what may or may not happen in the spring. But progress has to start somewhere. And if it started there on Saturday night, then the second half of the season will be very, very interesting.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another interesting development. At this moment, the Stars aren’t lingering on the outer edges of the playoff picture anymore. They’ve actually pushed their way into fourth place in the Central. That in itself may not seem very impressive. But a cursory glance at the standings shows they’ve pulled to within five points of first place St. Louis.

Moreover, they currently hold the first wild card in the Western Conference and are three points clear of eighth-place Anaheim. They enjoy a four-point cushion over ninth-place Chicago as well. For the time being, there’s breathing room in their quest for the playoffs. That’s not a common occurrence in recent Dallas Stars’ history.

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I don’t know what this means as the season progresses. They’re implementing a new philosophy on the fly, and that’s never an easy proposition. On paper, they have the horses to pull this off. They certainly have the coach, who incidentally just won his 800th game last week. He knows a thing or two about hockey. The signs here are good. The Dallas Stars  just need to keep putting it all together in time for the Stanley Cup tournament.