The week following the NHL's All-Star break was another emotional rollercoaster for Dallas Stars fans, marked by a big win, a big loss, and a game where they let a critical point slip away to the last team they need to be helping out. It also gave Dallas Stars fans another opportunity to show Ed Belfour just how much he means to this team and community, with a pre-game Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the American Airlines Center.
It was all hands on deck Wednesday night, as the Stars rode 6 different goal scorers to a healthy shellacking of the division rival Anaheim Ducks, on the road. Eric Nystrom, Vernon Fiddler, Jamie Benn, Michael Ryder, Sheldon Souray and Stephane Robidas all lit the lamp with individual tallies in a game that was never really in doubt. It was a fantastic confidence building unofficial start to the second half of the season.
Consistency, or rather a lack thereof, would once again rear it's ugly head just one night later, as the San Jose Sharks would win their fifth in a row against the Stars in convincing fashion. Three powerplay goals against, countless boneheaded mistakes, and a general lack of organizational soundness highlighted exactly what this team has been struggling with all year long. World beaters when things are looking good, bottom feeders when adversity strikes.
Luckily the inconsistency wasn't the only season-long trend that popped back up during the week, as our Lord and Savior Kari Lehtonen was once against dominant, especially in the 2-1 shootout victory over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night. In what very well could have been a 1-0 shutout, if not for another ugly backbreaking turnover, the big Finn put on a show worthy of Eddie Belfour's audience.
The most unforgivable of all hockey sins, the blind-pass up the middle of the ice, was an all too familiar sight this week. Nicklas Grossman's turnovers in San Jose were simply hors d'oeuvres to Jake Dowell's main course on Saturday night, that led to a goal that had very real implications on the Dallas Stars playoff race. As we saw last season, every single point counts if you're trying to make it to the post season. That's why even though headlines will tout a 2-1 victory for the Dallas Stars, I can't help but view it as a point that slipped away. In a race where they are directly competing with the Minnesota Wild for one of the top eight spots in the conference, it is simply unforgivable to allow mental mistakes to hand out charity points to the competition.
I've been called a pessimist on countless occasions by co-workers and fellow fans when I downplay the Stars chances to make a run at a playoff spot when they're only a few points back of the eighth seed, but the loser point changes everything. With a seemingly endless supply of three-point games, always coming at the worst possible time for the two teams you'd least like to see, a 4 point gap is much more than "two games back," as logic would dictate. If the Stars are going to make a run at this, they not only have to scrape each and every point from the bottom of the barrel, but also must ensure that they aren't handing out freebies to those around us in the standings. A two-point win isn't as impressive when it only moves you one point closer to the team in front of you.
Big picture aside, this could be viewed as a feel-good win for a team that can always use one. Lots of familiar faces were in the house to honor Ed Belfour on his induction into the Hall of Fame, and a loud and enthusiastic crowd got to witness the Stars current goaltender pay homage to a legend, with a 33 save performance and a victory. Brett Hull, Jere Lehtinen, Mike Modano, Joe Nieuwendyk and Darryl Sydor were all in attendance to celebrate with their former teammate, and once again it was a time to look back at our fondest memories as a fan base and our ultimate victory in 1999.
I'm going to close out this entry with a personal memory of Belfour's time in Dallas. Belfour, to me, signified the start of a new era of Dallas Stars hockey. I was still a kid in Junior High when he signed here, and a huge fan of Andy Moog, but something about Eddie Belfour brought a mystique that I almost feared. I knew him from the Stars/Blackhawks rivalry that was still pretty good at the time, and considered him an enemy, not unlike Jeremy Roenick and Chris Chelios.
With that fear came a boat load of respect. Belfour was one of the greats. One of the big names like Patrick Roy that you hated to see on the schedule and always saw at the All-Star game, which to a young kid like myself, meant he was a God. Up until this point, I didn't think those kinds of players played for Dallas. Sure, the Stars were coming off a Central Division title that was secured by the tandem of Andy Moog and Arturs Irbe, and things were looking up for the organization, but other than Mike Modano, I considered the Stars to be a small market team with small market players.
When Eddie Belfour signed with the Stars that summer, and Brett Hull the year after, it signaled to me that the Dallas Stars were a legitimate force in the NHL. It was with disbelief that I informed my family of the signing at the dinner table that night.
I remember watching the teaser on the news that the Stars had signed a new player. My face-to-name recognition back then wasn't what it is now, so when I saw that curly mullet pop out from the collar of that #20 sweater, I had to wait through an entire commercial break to learn the magnitude of the announcement. Any inkling in my mind that it could possibly be Belfour went out the window when I saw the number 20.
NHL97 on my Sega Genesis had taught me that Belfour wore #30, and was simply unbeatable. I didn't realize at the time that Eddie was a huge fan of Vladislav Tretiak, and would be using his number to pay homage. In fact, I didn't yet know who Vladislav Tretiak was, but when I learned that the great Ed Belfour, arguably the best goalie in hockey, was the newest member of the Dallas Stars, I ran straight to my Sega and found a way to get his little pixelated number to read as 20 under the black and green digital goaltender between my pipes.
He would certainly live up to all expectations I could possibly have for him in those first three years. Conference Finals for 3 straight years, Stanley Cup Finals for 2, and simply remarkable brilliance in that Finals series against the Buffalo Sabres in 1999. In the span of 3 years, he went from the intimidating enemy to lovable champion, forever etched in the minds and hearts of Dallas Stars fans everywhere.
No matter what ups and downs came in his career or tenure in Big D, Stars fans will always love Eddie Belfour and cherish all that he did for this organization. I couldn't be happier to see him inducted into the Hall of Fame, and I'm proud to say that he wore the Dallas Star on his chest.