There's really only one reason the Dallas Stars were ever a part of the national conversation this season, and that had to do with a certain legendary veteran and the presence of several players expected to be on the trading block. Once the Stars had dropped a bad shutout loss to Anaheim in front of a listless home crowd, and once Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow were actually traded -- many wrote the Dallas Stars off as finished for the season, including us.
Who would have thought the Stars had a five-game winning streak under their belt, overcoming some tough games against the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in back-to-back games as well as wins over the Ducks and Kings along the way? Who could have foreseen that trading some of the top talent on the team would lead to an improbable run at the postseason at a time when the Stars were supposed to be tanking on their way to a top five draft pick this summer.
On Monday, as the team prepares to face the best team in the NHL on the road in Chicago, the Stars are beginning to get some national attention. Tonight's game is on NBC Sports Network, and a couple of ESPN writers have taken the time to focus on perhaps the most surprising team in the NHL right now.
Craig Custance even tracked down the genesis of what brought this team together, the day after a demoralizing 5-2 loss to Anaheim that came the day after Roy and Jagr were traded:
That day, coach Glen Gulutzan met with his leadership group and made a decision. The practice scheduled for 2 p.m. was scrapped. Instead, Gulutzan opted to send the team bus down to Newport Beach for a lunch on a perfect California day. Maybe even let the guys enjoy an afternoon beer or two.
The bus returned at 3 p.m. and Gulutzan checked to see how many players came back with it. There wasn't one.
"They all stayed down together," he said when we chatted this weekend.
In one of the scheduling quirks that a lockout-shortened season brings, the Stars played the Ducks for the third consecutive game that Friday. The morning skate featured a few sunburned faces but there was also a team more relaxed and ready to play the game the way Dallas needs to in order to win games. The way they should have been playing all season.
This time, they beat the Ducks 3-1. They haven't lost since.
Custance talks with Gulutzan about how this new-look team approaches each game, how they've overcome a lack of talent with team play and a focus on a new and more direct style of hockey. It's a great article and if you have ESPN Insider access, well worth a read.
For those without, Pierre LeBrun also takes some time this morning to cover the Stars winning streak and spoke with general manager Joe Nieuwendyk about what's changed with with the team.
"It's been good, I think the young guys like [Alex] Chiasson and [Matt] Fraser have stepped in and have really added a lot of spark," Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk told ESPN.com. "But one of the keys, too, has been the veteran guys and how they've responded, guys like Vernon Fiddler, Eric Nystrom and Erik Cole and Ray Whitney -- those guys have been terrific. They've really stepped up their games."
We know that this is an amazing story and one of a team that is playing well above their heads as the season comes to an end. Getting to the postseason is not going to be an easy task and the Stars have the toughest path of all to reach that goal, but at this point it's clear that at the very least this is a team that finally believes in itself and that -- at the very least -- will hopefully carry over to next season.
We'll see the Stars on national television tonight, for the first time since the changes of two weeks ago, in what will be the ultimate litmus test for just how far this team has come since the trade deadline. Win or lose, we know believe this is a team that will give everything they have -- a belief that didn't exist on April 1.