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Dallas Stars Late Game Six Collapse Against Anaheim Ducks Could Lead To Brighter Future

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Five minutes of mayhem late in the third period and in overtime led to the end of the Stars season, but the wrenching loss may be the best springboard the Stars have to leap into their future.

Ronald Martinez

The Dallas Stars overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks that ended the series and their season was a gut punch in the worst way.

And that may be the best thing for this franchise.

That's not to say I don't wish there was a Game 7 at absurd o'clock tonight out on the West Coast, with the Stars facing a winner take all contest to move on to the second round. Of course I do.

But if we take a step back and look at this roster, this is a team that was not realistically going to win it all this year. At some point in the eight frantic, glorious weeks of playoff hockey, they were going to be eliminated before reaching hockey's biggest prize. That moment could have come in the first round, second or maybe even third. But it was going to come.

To have it come in the most wrenching way possible makes for the worst kind of sleepless nights, the kind where players from Kari Lehtonen to Valeri Nichushkin to Jamie Benn to even Chris Mueller are dreaming of all the tiny, seemingly insignificant plays they could have made that were not so insignificant in the end.

Let's go to the wayback machine for a moment, drifting back 17 years ago to the spring of 1997 when the surging Stars, who finished merely three points back of the President's Trophy, met the upstart Edmonton Oilers in the first round. We all know what happened in the overtime of game seven, when that blueline reached up and tripped Grant Ledyard, allowing Todd Marchant to walk in all alone for the series winner.

Now, these Dallas Stars are not the Stars of yesteryear, a loaded roster of all-star caliber players at the beginning or middle of their primes all over the lineup. They are not the dominant force who will almost assuredly be back at the top of the conference next year.

But the ache, yes, that's the same, that stomach-clinching nausea of what might have been. And just like those 1997 Stars did, I believe this group of players will use it to make them better.

Because nothing inspires the type of work like the chance for redemption. And there are plenty of players who will be looking for it now: Lehtonen, who was both brilliant and frustratingly below average; Ryan Garbutt, who played both hero and goat; Tyler Seguin, who was one of the most dangerous offensive forces on the ice but still slightly frustrated with his points total; and the list goes on and on.

The Stars in many respects beat themselves in this series, from taking stupid, preventable penalties to falling back on old, terrible coverage habits at inopportune times. And the pieces who mattered most, both in good ways and in bad, will be back. Lessons learned with the harshest of consequences are some of the lessons most likely to stick.

If you want a more recent example, you can look at both Seguin and Benn's regular seasons, which were in large part inspired by the snubs from the Team Canada Olympic orientation camp. While both snubs were borderline (just like several costly penalty calls in this series), there was also reason to be slightly bearish on both players, who were coming off seasons where there were some big questions marks.

They used that as motivation to drive them to a pair of career seasons. They took the gut punch and learned to hit back harder.

Going back to the premise that elimination before winning the Stanley Cup was essentially a certainty, there are several ways it could have happened.

It could have been a quick exit early without much of a fight, as it looked like it might be after the first two games (and especially the first period of the series). The Tampa Bay Lightning filled that void this year, and while I'm sure it hurts, it's a slower ache more muted by the extenuating circumstances of Ben Bishop's injury.

There's motivation that comes from that for sure, but it's not the same intensity of what-might-have-been.

It could have been a graceful bow out after a surprisingly deep run for an eight seed, which would be painful because there would only be seven or three teams left in the way rather than 15, but there would have also been a deep-rooted satisfaction in getting so far.

And while there is surely a deserved sense of pride in this bunch for making the playoffs after a five-year absence, and the variety of obstacles they had to overcome to even get that far, I think the way the Stars lost Game Six removed any sense of satisfaction, at least from the players. Their final memory of this season, will, yes, be pride that they clawed their way back in but even more so an anger at how it all ended.

Given that this year's Stars were highly imperfect - an entertaining, gutsy, gloriously fun and highly flawed group - that sense of dissatisfaction is exactly the right attitude to carry into the offseason. It can only make them better.

They were playing with house money, where every outcome is a good one simply because you're there. But losing in overtime after squandering a two-goal lead with three minutes left? That's not a good outcome. That hurts so much it costs you sleep.

It's the type of thing you want to do anything you can to make sure never, ever happens again. And that, ideally, is the biggest difference maker of all.