This is one of those mornings where it feels good to be a Dallas Stars fan.
Ever since this season began, we've approached each win by these Dallas Stars with caution. We don't want to get too far ahead and declare this team ready for the Stanley Cup just yet but it's also impossible not to get excited when the team is putting up win after win. For each victory, however, there were whispers of pessimism saying they've had an easy schedule and this house of cards could tumble at any moment.
Yet with a brutal stretch of games ahead, we approached this week as a litmus test as to whether this was a "real" team or not, whether these Dallas Stars should truly deserve the respect all the fans have been crying about all season long. After a big win against the Washington Capitals -- not just a win but a dominant win -- the Stars are suddenly getting all the respect and the accolades in the world.
"This was against an elite team and I am sure there were a lot of people watching to see how we did against a great team like Washington," said Kari Lehtonen. "It was nice to get a good victory."
After that win, the Dallas Stars were suddenly the talk of the NHL. On Versus, on the NHL Network, even on ESPN -- the Dallas Stars were being talked about as the best team in the NHL right and after weeks of cautious optimism every pundit around the nation was singing their praises about your Dallas Stars.
We've seen this before, however. We know how narrow the precipice of success can be. The good news is that these players remember that as well.
After the game, Trevor Daley was brutally honest with Mike Heika about this season and how the players are approaching this overwhelming success six weeks into the season.
"We are a good team,'' said Trevor Daley. "It is what it is, we're playing pretty good hockey right now. That is a very good team, it was a very good test for us tonight, and I think we handled it well.''
"But...we had a really good start last year, and it didn't work out for us,'' Daley said."I think we want to learn our lessons from last year, and I really believe we will. But we have to do it, we can't get ahead of ourselves and then not put the work in.''
We're going to be discussing this in more detail tomorrow, but the Stars' collapse last season was something that many of us saw coming. We knew the warning signs were there and every game was a torture of the nerves as we knew that at any moment the curtain would be pulled back on a team that had been successful mostly on smoke and mirrors. In the end, the Stars missed the playoffs by just one win -- yet their best hockey was months behind them.
This season that feeling doesn't exist. This is a confident team that is improving game after game and still has many areas that need working on. For now, the Stars are on a roll and it's evident as to why.
"Things are going pretty good right now, and I think that's because we're playing a simple game and we're playing the right way," said Jamie Benn. "Guys are having fun and we're all buying in and we're getting points on the road."
Gulutzan has shown an incredible amount of faith in his players and is showcasing why he has been so successful as a coach throughout his career. The players are buying into what he's selling them and more importantly, they're having fun doing so. Gulutzan stated the day he was hired that he wanted to make hockey fun again for the players and this team atmosphere he's built is shining through at the biggest moments in games.
The Stars are suddenly one of the best third period teams in the NHL. When the game is on the line they are the hungrier team, they want those two points more and they'll do whatever it takes to make that happen. They clamp down defensively and ramp up the offense. This season, when the game is tied heading into the third, the Stars are 6-1-0.
For the first time in years this is a Stars team that finishes stronger than it starts, that builds momentum throughout a game and is capable of breaking open a close game with an onslaught in the final period. They fought back against multiple deficits on Friday night against Colorado and broke open a tied game against the Capitals with three goals in the first ten minutes of the final frame.
"It was really nice to see how we outworked them in the third," Lehtonen said. "It was fairly easy for me. I think I had two saves at the halfway mark and we had scored three goals already."
Once again, the Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson combination continued to showcase their dominance each and every shift. While they cooled off as the game progressed, their raucous start set the tone of the game for the Stars and exhibited why this combination could become one of the most lethal in the NHL.
Michael Ryder, starting off slow this season while playing with Mike Ribeiro, suddenly looks like a man possessed out on the ice. His two goals in the first period gave the Stars the confidence they needed against a good team and he helped the top line continue to dominate the ice with six shots on goal in the first period alone.
"Those two guys have been playing together for a little bit and this is my third game with them," said Ryder. "They've been flying and I'm just feeding off them. We got something going good right now and I think tonight, we got a good effort from everybody. I think we had a good game and came out with the two points, which we really wanted."
There's no doubt that the Stars are riding high right now. There's no doubting that as of this moment, in the second week of November, they're the best team in the NHL. Yet as we witnessed first hand last season all it takes is a few bad games and suddenly the meltdown can happen and all of this can come tumbling down.
This is a different team, however, and after a big win against the Capitals the Stars are -- rightfully so -- feeling very confident in their ability to win against any team in the NHL. This was just one game, however, and the Stars are facing an even bigger test on Friday night in Pittsburgh.
"It's a good measuring stick for us," said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. "We're trying to gauge ourselves against the league and coming into Washington and then heading to Pittsburgh and Detroit, we feel this is going to be a real good measuring stick. Tonight, we liked our game and it just gives us confidence moving forward."