Just two weeks ago today, we were contemplating the future of the Dallas Stars and where this franchise was headed. We debated the identity of the team, and what changes needed to be made and who was to blame for the failures and who should be held accountable for what and who would accomplish that accountability since none had seemed to previously exist.
We looked ahead to the draft and had furious debates over which of the top picks the Stars should target, and whether the team would win only one or two more games the remainder of the season to help aid the acquisition of the best player available.
It wasn't just because of the fact that the Stars had traded Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy -- along with Tomas Vincour -- earlier in the week. It was the entire package, a season of broken promises and untapped potential; a roster that should have been better than the results dictated and a team that never really looked like one when on the ice.
Even if the Stars had fallen short of the postseason this was supposed to have been a season of growth and development and aside from a few bright spots -- there really wasn't much to hang our optimism on outside of Austin, Texas.
So, the trading of two of the best players on the team -- even though we all understood the need for the moves and agreed with the reasoning behind the actual trades -- became the symbol of that failure. It was the front office acknowledging that, after being fooled for two straight seasons, there was no longer any belief of faith that the Stars would be able to overcome the hump to get back into the postseason.
So we gave up.
Not on the team, or the players -- but on the season. Sure, there were some who still held out hope but logic stated the Stars had a near-impossible task just to have a chance at the postseason. That logic told it was time to appreciate watching a younger team get some valuable ice time at the end of the summer, but changes were coming because changes were needed.
That seems like such a different world, now, from a long, long time ago.
The Dallas Stars have not been perfect in their 6-1-0 run since that Friday evening two weeks ago. They've had some dominant periods and some overall strong games, yet escaped with two wins against Nashville and San Jose despite being outchanced and outshot. They ran into a gauntlet in Chicago that brought everyone screaming back to reality and chiding themselves for daring to get their hopes up.
Sure, the Dallas Stars haven't been perfect -- but that's not the point. The point is that they're winning; they're adjusting within games, the team is overcoming adversity on a nightly basis and basically accomplishing everything that deeper, more experienced and more talented rosters could not in the past -- winning games they need to win during the most important stretch of the season.
Even in the Chicago game, one in which the Stars lost 5-2 and came away humbled and beaten, I saw growth from the team in defeat I had not seen in years past. I saw a Stars team overcome a 2-0 deficit while on the road with its most important player stepping up to lead the team back. The Blackhawks found another gear in the third period and showcased that there's still a lot to learn -- and that sometimes talent does matter -- yet the Stars fought valiantly after a horrendous first period.
That momentum carried into Thursday's game against Vancouver, in which a young line of Reilly Smith, Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt attributed for a third of the offensive output on net for the Stars while the team scored five unanswered goals for the victory. The Stars overcame bad luck early, persevered against a very good Vancouver hockey team and dominated the third period so handily that Cory Schneider left the ice as broken, defeated, and splintered in rage as the goalie stick he destroyed.
That team in the third period on Thursday night, that Dallas Stars team? That team didn't exist three weeks ago. Sure, the framework was there but that team wasn't the same team that lost in wholly embarrassing fashion on home ice four times in a two-week span. This was a fast, confident and aggressive team that used a complete team attack to frustrate the hell out of a good hockey team -- even if it was the final period of a five-game road trip.
So, what has happened?
Some speculate Jagr was holding everyone back, simply by being himself. Everyone wanted him to stay, he was great for the team while he was here but his playing style seemed to foul up the rest of the team -- for whatever reason. Perhaps there's something to be said about chemistry and that a team that always felt temporary just never could get going together as a whole.
It's simpler than that.
This is a hockey team that suddenly believes in itself; that hits the ice with no overwhelming fear of failure and instead embraces the fight for success. We've talked a lot in the past about adversity and how these Stars react to that adversity throughout a game or a season; and for the most part this is a team that has not reacted well.
In 2011, the Stars somehow found themselves in a situation where a win against the Minnesota Wild in the final game of the season would lead to a postseason berth. It was an amazing turn of events and the Stars were playing a Wild team that called up half of their AHL roster for the game. The Stars fell flat on their face, disinterested and disheartened, and the season ended.
In 2012, the Stars needed just one or two wins in the final five games of the season to make the playoffs; a three wins might have even secured the division title and a No. 3 seed in the postseason. Instead, the Stars go 0-5-0 and score just six goals in a lame duck finish to the season.
Those teams had no belief, no faith in themselves that they were capable of success. They didn't have the will to find that next gear when the season was truly on the line -- this is not that team.
Consider, if you will, the names of the players currently on the roster that did not play more than 20 games for the Stars last season:
Now consider which of these players has had a significant impact during this improbable seven-game stretch of hockey.
Even if the Dallas Stars do not make the postseason, this is a team to be proud of -- to have faith in and to put forth that we believe that this is a team capable of great things, whether that is now or in the immediate future. We as fans feed off of the belief we see in the players and they in turn feed off of the belief they receive from the fans. It's a great relationship, between a team and its fanbase and when it's working -- it's magical.
You only needed to have been there on Saturday night, or Thursday night, to understand that.
We know that this is not a perfect team but we don't care. This is what hockey is all about, this is what being a fan is all about and this is what we took for granted for so long and became jaded over as the Stars' frustrations were compounded.
Yet, this season -- for the next five games -- we believe.