This one was tough. Tougher than I thought it would be, but with the new-found sense of hope that the future is indeed looking better. At least there's that saving grace -- along with the knowledge that all hope is not lost and that there's still a chance for things to fall the Stars' way.
Perhaps it would have been better had the Dallas Stars walked into HP Pavilion in San Jose and just laid an egg, like they did last season in an ugly 3-0 loss. That game pretty much sealed the fate of a team that fell flat on its face in the waning weeks of the season when the division title was theirs for the taking. That loss led to a 5-2 defeat at home to those same Sharks and then another shutout loss in Nashville that destroyed all playoff chances -- let alone a division title.
It was a nasty way to end the season, especially after the decisions that had been made at the trade deadline. Those five games led to drastic changes, with several players sent away via trades as GM Joe Nieuwendyk attempted to exact a culture change and start a new direction for a team that had failed one too many times when the chips were on the table.
That appeared to have been the case once again this season, as what appeared to have been a more talented team never seemed to really put it all together. The Stars were too inconsistent and the effort never quite seemed to be enough -- too many games began with a flat and disinterested team and too many games devolved in "embarrassing" losses.
We looked ahead to the draft. We told ourselves that this was just a transition season and we never should have hoped for more -- hell, I picked the Stars to finish in about the same spot it seems they'll end up anyways.
Then everything changed. We've discussed it, we've written about it. The team came together, they played for each other and they gave us hope that perhaps a hungry and young group of players could accomplish what more talented teams that came before could not.
Yesterday I wrote about pride and how I feel about the team. That sense of pride is even stronger this morning, despite that disastrous 30-second window in the final minutes of last-night's game. Perhaps that's why I feel the way I do this morning; we don't just feel the pain as fans we feel the pain for the players.
You could see it on their faces last night after the game. Kari Lehtonen didn't want to leave the ice.
This is a loss that will stick with this team for a very, very long time. You'd hope that this is the sort of loss that teaches this core of Stars players just what it's going to take as they continue to grow as a team, and as the Stars front office attempts to improve and add to what appears to be a very solid foundation for future success.
All is not lost and there's still a chance. One would hope that these final two games will be the absolute best we've seen from this team all season long. That they'll take the frustration and anger from this loss and channel into these final two home games, in front of fans so incredibly desperate for playoff hockey, and remind us that while this season may not have gone as planned -- there's still so much to look forward to.
This was a tough one. As a person who has maintained these past few weeks that we should just enjoy the ride and not get too caught up in the outcome -- it seems I broke my own rule. Perhaps I'm just tired of writing these postseason-less articles in April and May, and perhaps I'm tired of seeing this team the brunt of jokes and derision. Perhaps I wanted nothing more than extreme vindication as a fan, rooting for a team where Antoine Roussel, Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt show us just how far heart and will can take us.
There's going to be lots written about how "the Stars did it again" and how this team once again failed when they had complete control over their own fate. This isn't the same team as those, and this wasn't the same way this same scenario has played out before.
Doesn't mean the pain feels any different.
We haven't given up. I haven't given up. The Stars should not give up.
Two games remain. Let's make them the best yet.