It's amazing to think back to the path that brought us to this moment, a night when the Dallas Stars are playing meaningful hockey ten games left in the season. The Stars are fighting for a spot in the postseason, something some never thought possible, and are incredulously fighting for the division crown as well. The Stars have the upper hand in an incredibly tight playoff race but only by the slightest of margins; a loss tonight and the Stars could find themselves becoming the chaser once more.
As we get ready for tonight's monstrous matchup against the Phoenix Coyotes, and every game from now until the end of the season, it's important to look back at the journey that us here and realize just how important games like these have become to not just the team -- but for all Stars fans in the Dallas area.
We've talked about it plenty, how winning and going to the playoffs is instrumental in reclaiming the "casual fans". What isn't discussed is just how important going to the postseason will be for the hardcore, the fans that have stood by the team every game, every season since 1993. For the many -- and yes there are many -- Stars fans who have never wavered during this tough stretch, seeing that Stanley Cup logo on the ice in Dallas will be more special than anyone could possibly fathom.
The only challenge is we just have to emotionally survive long enough for the Stars to get there.
Here's what is most ironic about the past four years and three straight seasons with a postseason appearance for the Dallas Stars: many young fans that love the team so much right now became Stars fans during the 2008 Cup Playoffs. If you were to poll 1,000 Stars fans between the ages of 15 and 25, I guarantee you at least 30% will tell you they became fans as a result of the quadruple-overtime over the San Jose Sharks on May 4, 2008. It was the excitement of that game, the absolute thrill of winning such an incredible and intense contest, that convinced many young fans that hockey was their new favorite sport.
It's sad then, that for fans that fell in such love with the team and the sport during that summer, the thrill of those such games has never been felt since. What's amazing is that it seems these are the fans that have held on the most during all this time, while many fans who were so devoted in the 1990's have faded away when the tough times really hit.
This is what helps make the intensity of the next few weeks so high, as emotions run wild with every shot of every game as these fans fight to remember the thrill of the games they fell in love with. Suddenly that feeling you know so well has returned and it's clear that we are experiencing those same games, right now, starting with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Two weeks ago, I sat in the stands in the game against the Sharks. It was a sold out crowd, filled with rowdy Stars fans and for those few hours I was reminded of what we love so much about playoff hockey. The absolute terror and agony that comes in overtime where every shot has a direct impact of the outcome of the season. The incredible high that comes when your team has scored the winning goal and the jubilation and exultation that follows during the ensuing celebration.
For those of us, the new fans and the old, who have been with this team from that early morning in May of 2008 to this game against the Coyotes -- these games couldn't be sweeter. The loss and pain that comes with watching the postseason each year without your favorite is team is too clear in our heads, the taste of failure so raw and fresh. Last season, a last minute gasp against the Minnesota Wild was all we had and even then -- the thrill barely lasted through the first period.
This year, we get to experience these playoff dreams once more for a full three weeks before the postseason even begins. The anxiety among Stars fans is palpable, even without two straight losses on the forefront of all fans' minds. Despite an incredible 10-0-1 run the Stars have only earned a slight advantage in the Western Conference playoff race and with every game the remainder of the season being played against those also fighting, each game from this point forward carries more and more pressure in determining the outcome of this season.
For the fans lucky enough to be able to attend, there should be nothing less than an intense an fired up atmosphere -- despite the disappointment of Friday night. The Stars deserve to have their home team supporting them to the bitter end and if the past month is a good predictor, the fans at each remaining home game will be loud and rowdy. The Stars feed off the intensity the fans have the ability to provide and for a team like the Dallas Stars, that added emotion is more important than ever.
For the rest of us, we must live and die by the high-definition images on our screens and the excellent work of Ralph Strangis and Darryl Reaugh. For most of us, this is how we experienced the playoffs each and every season and this is how we'll likely experience each game this season. Sometimes it's easier at home, where we have the ability to pace in the kitchen during a third-period penalty kill or hide under the pillows during overtime. Sometimes, having a living room to yourself to curse your pain away is all we really need.
Ten games remaining and the fate of the Dallas Stars 2011-12 season will be known. This is a team no one thought would be in this spot six months ago and despite a rollercoaster of a season, now find themselves in the lead in the fight for the division title. A month ago we were planning the rebuild and now here we are, anxiously awaiting and hoping for the playoffs.
No matter what happens from this point forward we should be immensely proud of our Dallas Stars. This is a team that got to this point because of hard work and tenacity, with several players overcoming incredible odds to lead their team forward.
While this season has had it's down moments, fans should be incredibly grateful that we get to experience the thrill of meaningful hockey once more -- that each finally has more meaning than the one before it. No matter what happens, these games are ones to cherish and be grateful we have them -- after three seasons of going without.
If is just the regular season, imagine what the postseason could be like.