Why the Dallas Stars are one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals

The Dallas Stars continue to ride the hot hand of goalie Anton Khudobin.

The Dallas Stars were never supposed to get this far. The organization has been too much of an abject mess to sustain a run this deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs. From the team president calling out forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in the 2018-19 season to abruptly firing their coach midway through this weird saga, it’s safe to say the Stars had the market cornered on NHL drama.

There have been other reasons as well. The inconsistent play of the aforementioned Benn and Seguin has fueled speculation–especially in Benn’s case–that their best days are behind them.  There was the pitiful 1-7-1 start to this campaign that was followed by a 36-13-5 stretch that put them in the upper echelon of the NHL standings. But just when we were lulled into a sense of security, they ran off an 0-4-2 clunker before the season was halted by Covid-19.

Even still, when play resumed in the Western Conference hub in Edmonton, Alberta, these Stars didn’t exactly hit the ground running. In fact, they looked exactly like the team that sputtered to a stop as the season hit a wall. I mentioned that they looked old and slow, and that their general demeanor had an “Anywhere But Here” air about it. I thought their exit from the hub would be hasty and unremarkable.

But here’s to being wrong and being completely happy about it. Not that it’s been all smooth sailing–far from it. These Dallas Stars were 12.9 seconds away from being down 3-1 to Calgary in the first round. Had center Joe Pavelksi not potted the tying goal to force overtime, who knows what would’ve happened? But the Stars would not lose another game that series en route to dousing the Flames.

What’s happened since then is the stuff of playoff lore. Dallas played the Colorado Avalanche in an absolute classic semifinal that required the full seven. The Stars darn-near coughed up a 3-1 series lead in that round before Joel Kiviranta slapped home a heart-stopping tally in overtime to put the Avs to bed.

And that brings us to the present. There comes a time when a team you’ve followed for decades reaches that legitimate playoff heater stage that makes all the mostly down times worth it. If Kiviranta’s walk-off OT stunner didn’t scream it from the mountain tops, then the last two wins against the Vegas Golden Knights have confirmed it.

Look, don’t get me wrong. The Stars haven’t won anything yet. There aren’t any banners hung in the rafters for final four appearances in the Stanley Cup playoffs, either. Further, they’ve very recently shown a penchant for hesitating to put a wounded opponent away. What they have displayed in bulk, however, is a certain resiliency, and that is now firmly apparent in the play of goalie Anton Khudobin. In the last two games alone, Khudobin has been the primary reason his team’s been in a position to win.

It is the player affectionately known to fans and teammates alike as “Dobby” that has battled and fought and clawed to keep the Stars within striking distance in games where they were getting severely outplayed at times. While Khudobin hasn’t been a brick wall throughout this run, he’s been a lot stingier against the Golden Knights. His fighting spirit has allowed the Stars to find their way back into games, and then ultimately steal them in the end.

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So far, it’s resulted in a commanding 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals with a chance to close out Vegas on Monday night and advance to their first Finals in twenty years. Sure, the Stars have gotten some huge goals to further their cause. Cup contenders don’t contend otherwise. But this run has been built on the back of a journeyman Kazakhstanian goaltender who simply won’t let his team go down without a fight.