After two straight losses, including a stinker of a performance against last-place Columbus, there was a lot of talk about what there Stars weren't. They weren't a playoff contender. They weren't talented enough. They weren't good enough to compete consistently. It was just another valley in a season already feeling like a rollercoaster and it was a bad week for Stars fans, so it was a bit understandable that there was dismay at the thought of facing the Bruins.
There was also talk about Glen Gulutzan and whether he was a good enough coach to get this undermanned team to the playoffs in an incredible tough Western conference. All season, Gulutzan has made it known that he's going to not deviate from his plan and despite struggles at times for his team, he's yet to really shake things up. Instead, he's shown that he's confident in his ability to coach and teach his team and get them ready for games without having to change all the lines or defensive pairings.
Against the Boston Bruins, at least for one night, it's tough to say that Gulutzan and his Stars team weren't absolutely masterful.
Preaching all morning about how his team needed to stay within their "structure", something echoed by Brenden Morrow, the Stars focused on literally ignoring all of the hype surrounding this game and how it would be another physical brouhaha. Instead, the Stars watched the Bruins become the frustrated team and they counter-attacked perfectly, heading to the locker room up 3-1 after perhaps the best period of play from this team all season long.
"It was a good rebound game for us," said Jamie Benn. "I thought we played all right against Columbus but didn't get the two points, and we came out with a good team effort tonight, it took everyone, and it's a big two points."
It was just one win and it was against a team that was due for a letdown at some point, but this win against Boston shows just what sort of effort these Stars are capable of and how Gulutzan's focus on maintaining four consistent lines throughout a game paid off to near perfection.
While the Dallas Stars received incredible performances by Jamie Benn, Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley, it was the fourth line that really helped to solidify for the victory as they suffocated and frustrated the Bruins all night long. Glen Gulutzan was practically gushing about his fourth line after the game.
"I thought Tommy Wandell, his game is really rounding out and I thought [Burish} gave us quality ice time, not only PK but taking face-offs and he made a nice play there (on Wandell's goal), and so did Dowell, that fourth line created some energy and got the crowd into it and they played hard. Those guys are hard-working guys and they can play up in the lineup and they did a great job for us. "
The Stars, in the past and something we've documented a few times already, have shown that when their emotions run hot they tend to forget about the rest of the game. While Dallas is focused on being "pesky" and "hard to play against", the game is getting out of hand, even if the Stars aren't necessarily playing poorly -- see Philadelphia. Against the Bruins, the Stars were the exact team they've been striving to be all season long; tough to play against but in control and dangerous.
The Bruins came into this game as the hottest team in the NHL and leading in nearly every statistical category. The Stars refused to get involved in any of the shenanigans we've seen the past few seasons and it obviously frustrated the Bruins, who gave the Stars several power play opportunities in the first period that were quickly taken advantage of.
The Bruins tried to bounce back in the second period and wanted to use their big bodies to do so, but when the Stars continued to ignore their ploys the frustration mounted -- meaning more penalty trouble for the Bruins and another dominant period for the Stars.
"I think they were a little bit frustrated in that second," Gulutzan said. "They took a lot of penalties, they weren't getting the bounces, and I think they felt they weren't getting the calls, but for our team, we stayed the course, we didn't get involved too much in it and we were team-tough when we needed to be and we stayed away from most of it. I thought that's the way our game plan was drawn up and we did a good job following it."
The Bruins amped things up late in the period after the Stars took a 4-1 lead, but once again the Stars focused on playing hockey and not getting involved in what the Bruins were trying to cook up. That approach is what helped propel Boston to the Stanley Cup last year and it's a big part of why they're successful this season, but the Stars were one of the few teams that managed to ignore it all.
"That's part of their game," Benn said. "They're the ‘Big, Bad Bruins' for a reason and I think we did a good job of staying disciplined tonight and capitalizing on our power play chances and it got us the win."
It wasn't just a matter of the Stars ignoring the physical bullying of the Bruins, as the Stars played as good as they have 5-on-5 all season long. Even more impressively, the power play of the Stars managed to capitalize twice in the first period -- once again showing how taking advantage of prime opportunities is the key for this team this season.
The Stars didn't sit back in this game and attacked relentlessly, outshooting and outchancing the Bruins from the drop of the puck. Even with a three and two-goal lead, the Stars never truly sat back and continued to put the pressure on Boston, something that managed to frustrate the defending champs for most of the game. The way the Stars controlled the neutral zone, as well as playing their transition game to perfection was a great example of how these Stars -- when in control -- can suffocate the best teams in the NHL.
It's the perfect example of a team effort and a team win and it worked against Washington and the New York Rangers, just like it did against Boston. The Stars are able to roll four lines almost evenly throughout the game and on Saturday night, we witnessed just how well that system works when the Stars are focused on and not getting caught up in the emotion of the game.
There was a lot of talk before the game about how many fights there would be, what sort of physical altercations would take place. For Stars fans, it was worrisome considering the fact that last season's game against Boston literally became the beginning of the end for the team's playoff hopes. Three fights in the games opening seconds led to lengthy injuries by several key players and the Stars never recovered.
``You don't have to fight to win, but you do have to stand up for yourself," said Vernon Fiddler. "I think we did that in this game. We came out and directed play, and we took the game to them, and we won.''
This was about being pesky, but in control. It was beautiful.