No one expected the Dallas Stars to go undefeated through the rest of the season. Hoped and dreamed, maybe, but certainly not expected.
The road to the playoffs for the Stars is particularly tough, facing playoff teams through the end of the schedule. And one of the most interesting things about the remaining games, is that each team has a different style of play.
For the St. Louis Blues, that involves a stifling defense that will let you possess the puck as long as you like -- until you try and enter their zone. It's classic Hitchcock hockey, and it's an effective style of play as long as they can score a couple of goals first.
The Stars played well last night, not making a ton of mental errors, but it wasn't enough in the end, as they fell 2-1 to the Blues. As we mentioned yesterday, though, this team is still incredibly young, and is still learning. While we hope that the Stars can make the playoffs still, (since they maintain control of their destiny at this point), the more important thing is that they learn lessons from each game they play. And, sometimes, a loss can prove to be even more valuable in those regards.
And that's why the 2-1 loss to the Blues Friday could be important. It showed the Stars that difference doesn't just happen, that change doesn't come without work and planning and persistence.
The Stars came out Friday and tried hard, they wanted the game, they did some good things. But every time they thought they were breaking through, they ran into a trap or a defender or a stick. The passing lanes were clogged, the shooting lanes were clogged, the ice was clogged. Every time Dallas thought it had solved the problem, another monkey wrench was thrown in the path.
It looked like a soap box derby in one of those old Little Rascal's serials. You half expected the Blues to toss an old tin can or a flower pot out on the ice when things were moving too quickly.
Once the Blues fought for their 2-0 lead, you could see them turn up the defense even higher. Kari Lehtonen said he only really played a half game in goal, because St. Louis stopped trying to score. But a funny thing happened at that point, the Stars actually started to play like the new-look Stars. They went North and South, they spent time in the attack zone, they brought pucks to the net.
The Stars did a great job putting pressure on the Blues, but Hitchcock hasn't won 600+ games for no reason.
Ultimately, the Stars will have to regroup and move on from this loss. With only four games remaining, there is no time to dwell on what happened. The good news is that the Stars have the ability to learn from this, and apply it to the remaining games. They need to learn that the opposing team cannot dictate their style of play, no matter who the home team is.
There may be an argument about just how much the Stars can actually learn. After all, the Stars have lost plenty of games this season, and have not really seemed to take away much from them. But these last two losses are different. During most of the season, the Stars lost because they were not playing efficiently, and not playing up to their potential. Now, though, they are playing well, but just being beaten by more experienced teams. There is a profound difference between the two.
While it hurts to see them lose, Stars fans can still say at this point that they are proud of the way this team is playing. And that is all that should really matter in a growing season like this one.
Coming up in today's links: More thoughts on the Stars, the playoff race impact, and proof that there were worse losses in the NHL last night.
- Mark Stepneski has his post game review, including some quotes from the team. [Stars Inside Edge]
- If you watched the game, you may have heard that Hitchcock recently won his 600th game. Last night was number 602 for him, and that's no small feat. Heika has some great details on his career. [Dallas News]
- The Stars get a mention here, thanks to their improbable post deadline run so far. Hopefully, the Stars will give good reason for more articles like these to come out in the future. [Calgary Herald]
- The Wings know that the real competition for a playoff spot is the Stars, and not the Jackets. With all the games in hand, it's likely the Jackets are about out of the race. [Detroit Free Press]
- The playoff watch is focusing mainly on the Stars in the West. I'm starting to sense a trend here. [Puck Daddy]
- The NHL Playoff Primer doesn't worry about the bubble teams though, as the ones who are all but guaranteed a spot are still fighting for position. [NHL]
- Another look at the Western Conference Playoff Race. Allan Muir looks at the Stars' schedule and wonders if they can get it done. [Sports Illustrated]
- Two more teams were eleiminated from the playoff race last night, as the NHL deathwatch continues. [Puck Daddy]
- One of those teams, the Buffalo Sabres, lost in spectacular fashion last night. And it is your video of the day. They allowed 5 (FIVE) goals in under three minutes. 2 of the goals last night can probably be credited to some misplays by Adam Pardy. You see Stars fans? Last night wasn't so bad after all...