Stars display massive surge in second period, dismantle Wild

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 06: Jamie Benn
DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 06: Jamie Benn /

After a few lackluster efforts, the Dallas Stars used plenty of depth scoring and stellar goaltending to demolish a divisional opponent.

In three of their last four games, the Dallas Stars wobbled a bit. They got their doors blown in consecutive losses to Toronto and Los Angeles. Worse yet, they came out flat against the woeful Coyotes last Thursday before righting the ship and winning that game. It’s enough to let doubt creep in, especially if you’ve followed this team closely over the years. Playoffs aren’t exactly the birth rite they used to be.

Somewhat fittingly, on what was billed “Retro Night“, the Stars took a huge step back to their January form in clubbing a very solid Minnesota Wild squad. To be sure, this is the same Wild that smacked them pretty good only a month ago. Furthermore, they’re a Central Division foe. Added up, it was just what the Stars needed in order to maintain their hold on the first wild card spot in the Western Conference.

It didn’t start off as a blowout early on. The two teams seemed content on feeling each other out in a clinical opening period. The 0-0 score at the time suggested as much. But the game definitely turned in the second stanza, particularly on a very timely save by goalie Kari Lehtonen. Soon thereafter, the Stars found their offense and went on to score four second period goals en route to the lopsided 6-1 final.

In retrospect, it is perhaps foolhardy to doubt this team’s mettle. Sure, you have your duds here and there, and that’s exactly what the Toronto and Los Angeles games were. The Arizona game started that way, but coach Ken Hitchcock must’ve barked pretty loudly in the first intermission, because the Stars hit the ice like a bunch of scalded dogs and never looked back. They were the best team on the ice by a mile, and it showed.

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It is also in one’s best interest to keep the big picture in mind. Even with that small teeter, they are 12-5-1 over their last eighteen games. That’s 25 out of a possible 36 points in that span, and a .667 winning percentage to boot. By any metric, those numbers portend a very good hockey team. Moreover, it suggests they’ll be an extremely difficult out once the Stanley Cup playoffs commence. Making the tournament isn’t just an expectation, it’s almost a given. The main concern now is how far they make it once they get there.

The simple fact is the addition of Hitchcock looks like a bigger stroke of genius with each passing week. It’s easy to forget since he was gone for so long, but the guy simply knows which levers to pull and which buttons to push. Additionally, time appears to have softened some of the acidity in his coaching style. Ever the teacher, he appears less inclined to henpeck and more patient. Time does that to all of us, I suppose.

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So while the end result is definitely still a work in progress, the returns are mostly glowing. The veterans assimilated nicely, save for Jason Spezza. But ever since his healthy scratch and the minor kerfuffle that caused, he’s playing a with a renewed focus. And the younger players on this team were seemingly tailored for Hitchcock’s coaching style. In short, the Dallas Stars are the nascent playoff team this city deserves right now.