2012 NHL Playoffs: Dallas Stars Take The Ice With Everything On The Line

Feb 26, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; The Dallas Stars celebrate center Mike Ribeiro (not pictured) goal with under a minute to play against the Vancouver Canucks during the third period at the American Airlines Center. The Stars defeated the Canucks 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

This has been a very challenging and rough season for the Dallas Stars and their fans. At the same time, this has been an extremely rewarding season as well. For the first time in years we sense a growing momentum in this franchise, with Tom Gaglardi leading the way as the team's enthusiastic and passionate owner. We know that the Stars could have a very good and very young team in just a few short years and for many of us, it has been this firm grasp of the future that has kept our fanaticism from waning.

For this season, however, we are locked into the here and now. While we look to the future with bright eyes and a growing hope for what could be, this season has brought us a team that we can't help but love while also finding ourselves incredibly frustrated at different moments this season. This is a hockey team that is built around hard work and discipline and when those two traits break down, the Dallas Stars struggle.

We know what this team is capable of and we've seen them take the fight for this season farther than anyone ever thought possible. To see them fall just short of their goal, once more, would feel absolutely devastating to the bottom of our hockey souls.

It's amazing how expectations can change throughout a season, how just months ago we would have been incredibly grateful just to find the Stars in this position. Now, after just four wins in their past ten games, we struggle with the disappointment that would come if the Stars once again miss out on the postseason.

We know what the situation was heading into the season, how a team with no owner and a rock-bottom payroll would be a long-shot just to have a chance at the postseason. Here we are, however, with the opportunity right in front of us and we can't help but feel anxiousness, nervousness and an overall feeling of doom over just how things can go so incredibly wrong.

Yet there is hope. There is belief. And there is faith.

We are sports fans because we love the competition and the thrill that comes with it. In this game there is always going to be a loser and a winner and we fight through the bad times for the glory that comes with the good. The feeling of seeing your team celebrating a victory on the biggest of stages is one that is impossible to accurately describe as it never amounts to anything less than absolute euphoria.

We follow the teams we love for various reasons, whether it's because the team resides in the city of your home or because you fell in love with the team from afar based on past successes. Many fans of the Stars came to the team because of players like Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen and have stuck with their favorite team even though the legends are long gone.

For this team and this season, fans have had little to fall back on other than their faith. For the past four years this is all the Stars fans have had, faith that the team will once again pull themselves out of the ashes left by prior ownership and relive the glory that made us love this team and this sport all those years ago.

This game and this season is for those that have believed and have held strong to their faith in the Dallas Stars, even when it seemed as if nothing could go right.

We believed in Joe Nieuwendyk and what he could do with a limited budget and limited resources.

We believed that even in the face of incredible adversity and almost zero attention from outside Dallas, the Stars would mount at least a fighting chance at proving the detractors wrong.

We believed in this team and these players, that even when things weren't going well that eventually they'd find a way to win once more.

We believe in Mike Ribeiro, that he can work his puck magic once more and continue the thrill the hockey world.

We believe in Loui Eriksson, the most underrated player in the NHL and perhaps the key any success the Stars will have.

We believe in Michael Ryder, who has stormed into Dallas on a mission and has surprised the entire league with his goal-scoring abilities all season long.

We believe in Jamie Benn, who has done so much all season with so little, who continues to be the driving force and catalyst for the success of this team.

We believe in Steve Ott, who we know can be one of the best agitators in the NHL -- especially when he keeps his cool.

We believe in Alex Goligoski, who may not have the big offensive numbers but who is undoubtedly the most valuable defenseman on this team.

We believe in Mark Fistric, who has worked so hard all season to recover from a few tough years and now finds himself a big key to this team's success.

We believe in everyone on this team, from Radek Dvorak to Reilly Smith, because we've seen what they're capable of. We know that the Dallas Stars are capable of winning against any team in the NHL, that when they play up to their fullest potential even the best teams in the NHL struggle to keep up. Their tenacity, hard work and relentless pursuit of the puck is what put them in this position in the first place and we have faith that those qualities are still right there, just waiting to roar back with a vengeance in the biggest game of the season.

More than anything, we believe in Kari Lehtonen, who has done so much for this franchise in just a short period of time. The Stars will only go as far as Lehtonen will take them and after such an incredible season of watching him put this team squarely on his back, we have faith that he can do it once more.

This game is for those of us that remember the early morning of May 5th, 2008 in the last game between these two teams that had such incredible implications. While this is just a regular season game make no mistake; the stake riding on who the victor tonight may be have just as big an implication as Game 6 did four years ago.

This game is for those of us who have stood by the Stars when they needed us most, when times were tough and the team was struggling.

This game is for the fans who never left, who were there through all of the heartache and disappointment of the past four years.

This game is for the fans who held strong to their faith that one day this team would once again come out on top, that the struggles that faced this franchise were merely temporary.

This game is for the fans that stood and cheered with empty seats surrounding them, who never missed a game in person or on television, who waved the banner of the Dallas Stars when no one else would pay attention.

This game is for the fans that never forgot, the ones that always remembered just what this franchise has stood for ever since coming to Dallas.

This game is is for those of us welcomed back the fans with open arms, who deep down understood why those empty seats existed and harbored no ill-will for those that left.

This game is for those that remember Shane Churla, Neal Broten, Dave Gagner, Russ Courtnall, Grant Ledyard, Paul Cavallini, Ulf Dahlen, Andy Moog, Darcy Wakaluk and all of the other unforgettable players that helped to make this such a popular sport when the Stars first came to Dallas.

This game is for Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Jere Lehtinen, Sergei Zubov and the legends that have walked through the doors of the Dallas Stars locker room, whose legacy will always remain no matter who takes the ice for this team.

This game is for the love of the sport of hockey and everything that makes it so grand.

The Stars face a daunting task, one that they have undoubtedly made more difficult on themselves. Yet there is still time. Time to right the wrongs of the past few weeks, to forget the disappointment of opportunities squandered. We've seen this team play some of the best hockey in years at times over the past two months and we must have faith that their best is still ahead of them.

Win or lose, we must know that this is a hockey team that cares. They want this more than anyone that will be in the stands tonight and we must know that they will leave everything they have on the ice. It is this knowledge that drives our faith and our hope and our love of this team and this sport.

Let's play some hockey.

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