What a week for the Dallas Stars. Start off with doom and gloom after losing five out of the previous six games, and then win three games in a row to stake sole claim of the eight and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It was the kind of week that can start to give hope to a fan base that is in desperate need of a little sunshine. The players that needed to step up stepped up, and the team appeared to finally come together as a cohesive unit for the first time since October.
Perhaps the most important accomplishment, as tiny as it sounds: The Dallas Stars won the second game of a back-to-back. They won the first game of it too! Outstanding play by the Stars netminders in both games gave the team a chance to overcome the often crippling fatigue that has plagued the team all year in back to back games.
The feel-good began in Montreal on Tuesday night. In a game that could almost be considered a must win, simply due to the fact that the Stars don't deserve to make the playoffs if they can't beat a team as dysfunctional as this season's Canadiens, Mike Ribeiro showed his former team exactly why they never should have shown him the door.
Everyone's favorite new call-up Ryan Garbutt notched his first NHL goal with hard work and a willingness to put pucks on net. Kari Lehtonen provided cool, clam, collected, and spectacular netminding to claim the shutout, and Ribeiro was all over the map with creative and slick offensive grace that was rewarded with the first star of the game.
He took this opportunity to celebrate in front of his home town fans, much to the chagrin of those who can only be described as haters at this point. As he skated around the Bell Centre ice waving his arms in celebration, one had to wonder... Where exactly is Janne Niinimaa these days?
Two nights later, the Stars were in another original six town taking on the Chicago Blackhawks. I don't think many of us expected a win, and with a 1-0 score heading into the third, fans were pessimistic. A third period rally of three goals in less than half a period had the Stars pulling away for the easy win in one of the league's most difficult buildings to play in.
Much of the credit for this win and the win against Minnesota was attributed to a locker room rally by the team's core leadership group. "We were lucky to get out of the second," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "Our leadership group took a stand in between the second and third, and we got going. I didn’t do anything between periods. Our leadership group pushed forward and got the job done."
What exactly that entails, we don't know... but it's good to see passion in the right place on a team that is fighting so hard to return to the playoffs. Richard Bachman kept them in the game, and the leaders of this team took care of the rest, as the Stars got to fly back home with a 3-1 victory fresh on their minds.
The next night, the Stars were hosts to their cousins from the north, the Minnesota Wild. The Wild have historically had all kinds of difficulties playing in Texas, and this was no exception. The Stars slowly built up a lead by outplaying the Wild in most aspects of the game, and went into the third period with a 3-0 lead.
I'll leave it up to you to decide who to blame for Devon Setoguchi ruining Kari's bid for a second shutout of the week. Things were looking really good until the Stars got into penalty trouble. Rather than suck it up and tell the boys to push ahead as usual, Glen Gulutzan let the official's hear his displeasure, and the Stars were tagged with a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.
On the ensuing 5-on-3 powerplay, the Wild overpowered the penalty kill and netted their first goal of the game. It would be too little, too late, and Tommy Wandell would add an empty net goal to give the Stars a 4-1 victory and sole possession of the 8th seed in the West.
With the trade deadline fast approaching, the Stars finally seem to be showing some cohesion and teamwork. Contrary to popular belief, the effort has never been an issue with this team, and it's nice to see it finally paying off. Those difficult decisions are bound to get more difficult as we get closer to D-Day.
Those expecting great shakeups might be disappointed, but you never know what kind of splash might happen with a team with as much cap space as the Dallas Stars right now. For the time being, let's all just be glad to be above sea-level again for the first time in forever.
Despite all the struggles and the uncertainty, we're still actually a mere 3 points behind San Jose for first place in the Pacific Division. What a difference a week can make.