With the 2010-11 season seemingly hanging on by a thread for the Dallas Stars, there really isn't much left to say. Not much analysis as needed as we all know the stakes: just win. Get two points and do it without going to the shootout and hope that by some miracle the other pieces fall in place.
After the loss to Anaheim a few weeks back, there was the feeling that the team was finished. That loss was the nail in the coffin of an ultimately painful season and the way the team played following that game there was more than enough evidence that the team felt just as defeated as the fans. They played their hearts out and would continually come up short, out gunned by hungrier and more talented teams.
It was demoralizing to see how the players reacted after the Nashville loss and no one could be blamed for thinking that even if the playoffs were still a mathematical possibility, hoping for a postseason berth at this point was pure the stuff that dreams are made of. Yet now, after just one win, those dreams are once again alive and well.
As crazy as it might seem, even after nearly two months of failing to take advantage of numerous opportunities to lock down a playoff spot, the Dallas Stars have a chance at making the postseason. The win against Anaheim, combined with Chicago's loss, was finally the break the Stars needed and there's the hope that the team finds a way to build off the victory and continues to fight for their future.
On Sunday night the Dallas Stars played just good enough to win a close game against a good team. If the Stars hope to somehow fight their way into the postseason, "just good enough" will leave them exactly where they've been for much of the past few weeks: coming up short and headed home early.
For 50 minutes against Anaheim on Sunday night, the Dallas Stars were by far the better team. Only a couple of fluke goals allowed the Ducks to have a chance in the game, as the Stars dominated on both ends of the ice with desperate and physical play that frustrated Anaheim again and again.
It was the performance of a team fighting for a playoff spot. It was the performance that the Stars have needed for a month and while the Stars have played desperate before, Sunday night the team took it to a completely new level. There was still some fight left in these players and even though most of us had given up after the loss to the Kings on Saturday, it was more than apparent the Stars had not.
The problem is that as good as those first 50 minutes might have been, it is the final 10 minutes of the game that was most troubling.
For whatever reason the Stars are now timid when they have the lead. They play as if they are worried about surrendering the lead and even though timid play is the perfect method for giving up the lead it's exactly how they played on Sunday once Anaheim pulled within a goal.
The players understood the stakes and they remembered what happened the last time they were in this position against this very same team and for whatever reason it changed the way they played the game. This season, while possessing the lead in games, the Stars forget whatever it was that gave them that lead in the first place. As the third period progressed, the Stars lost their aggressiveness and confidence and once again made mistake after mistake in their own zone.
This time, the Stars received the breaks they never got in weeks past and walked away with the win. If they want to actually get into the playoffs, there's no way this will be good enough.
The hope is that this victory propels them forward with confidence and shows the importance of a full 60 minute effort. We know the Stars are capable of such a thing as we've seen it not three weeks ago against Chicago. You wonder however, after the vigors of the past games and the continued disappointment of loss after loss, if the Stars even have enough left in the tank to take that proverbial next step and truly fight their way into the postseason.
The Stars are a weary and beat down bunch. They've fought incredibly hard this season and they're fighting for themselves; there's no owner on the horizon ready to sweep this team off its feet and there's no momentum building in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in the media and the fans. There's only the players, the coaches and the fans that have been there from the very beginning to provide as much energy and fighting spirit as one team could possibly need. After months of fighting and not winning it begins to drag a person down.
It's amazing what winning can do for a team.
To continue this fight and make the postseason, the Stars have to be better than they were against the Ducks. It's not so much about having to overcome superior opponents, it's about having to overcome themselves and build momentum for the possibility they do find a way into the playoffs. Because as great as making the playoffs may be, a quick 0-4 sweep at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks might not even make the fight worth it.
The Stars talk about taking it 60 minutes at a time and that's all I want them to do. Yet building their energy, their fight and their momentum back for the possibility of a postseason berth is just as important. As great as that win against Anaheim might have been, it's not going to be good enough.
Win, and improve. It's that simple.