There's been a lot to fret about this season. Early on, it seems like the wins were coming disproportionately from the East. As things continued, the goaltending stats began trending down, Benn and Seguin stopped scoring, and January and February seemed like a cruel comeuppance for a Stars team that had done everything else right up to that point. Then John Klingberg and Jason Demers went down with injuries, and Mattias Janmark and Tyler Seguin followed. The wheels were coming off, right?
Maybe in seasons gone by, but not this year. Jason Spezza stepped up in a huge way for Dallas when they needed him, Kari Lehtonen found the form that had eluded him for much of the season, and Dallas even worked the curious magic of taking the Calgary Flames' worst statistical defenseman and turning him into a mainstay on their blue line. And it turned out that all those games won at the end of 2015 still counted, and they served to lessen the impact of the Stars' winter swoon.
Tuesday night served as a reminder of just how special this season has been. Dallas traveled to the lair from which so many impertinent AAC invaders originated, and they once again embarrassed the Blackhawks in front of their kith and kin. Any time you put up four goals in a period, it's special, and when three of them come from fourth-line forwards, you have to just stop and bask in the moment. The season and playoff seeding is far from set, but the final two periods of tonight felt like a small little victory lap.
Once Stephen Johns got a breakaway, you knew this game was full Looney Toons, through and through. Every single player to score a goal tonight played in the bottom six for good stretches of the season, and the Stars' "bottom" line tonight scored twice on the same shift. Radek Faksa couldn't score on a grade-A opportunity, as has been his lot this year, and yet, almost as if even Fate couldn't keep a straight face tonight, he hit a perfect spot short-side high on a later rush to make it 5-1.
Faksa's goal was cool for a few reasons, actually. One, it originated from a nice Stephen Johns pass up the boards. Johns, who appeared to be doing the old "make your ex see how great your life is without them" thing, really has continued to be anything you could have expected him to be, and perhaps a bit more. He's been somewhat sheltered, and it's still horribly early to make sweeping pronouncements (likewise about Kris Russell, I might add), but the Stars got one of the Blackhawks' solid defensive prospects last summer, and that has to hurt Stan Bowman, no matter what choice he did or didn't have in terms of trade partners for Sharp.
The other thing I loved about Faksa's goal was that the primary assist came from a deft little tip by Hemsky, who continues to remind you that, for all of his drive-you-up-the-wall moments, he has vision and skill that few players can boast. When it works, you almost have to restrain yourself from laughing at the improbability of its succeeding. But when the team is winning, you can just smile and enjoy things like that.
You can also enjoy learning that for Faksa, playing with Hemsky is apparently like playing on a line "with his dad," per Razor on the broadcast. Suddenly Hemsky's overabundant patience makes a lot more sense: Dads do need a lot of patience, don't they?
Additionally, let's not lose sight of Colton Sceviour, who pulled off a miraculous bit of good fortune/next-level skill on goal #1, and who took a great Brett Ritchie forecheck (who, by the way, has really been evoking early-career James Neal lately) and turned it into something so marvelous that Eddie Olczyk was convinced the puck had taken a crazy bounce off the boards until he saw the second replay. Sceviour may be back next season, but that's far from a guarantee. Colton Sceviour has 10 goals this season, and that is something we do know. How about that?
Vernon Fiddler also deserves a good Hey Howdy Hey for puttin' his George Strait cowboy hat on and going to work. Two goals against the reigning champs in their own building feels pretty good, judging from the grin on the grizzled veteran's face after his second tally. Fiddler also may not be back in Dallas next season, but he scored his 10th and 11th goals tonight. The great thing is that Fiddler will have one more playoff run with the Stars. Would you be shocked to see Fiddler remind us of a certain 2014 Playoff version of Shawn Horcoff, come April?
I am sorry that Patrick Eaves had to settle for only one goal against Chicago this time. I hope that one goal was still enough for you to be happy on the plane ride, Patrick.
The Blackhawks had the benefit of line matching tonight, being the home team. That likely had much to do with the lack of offense from the top two lines. Thing is, the Stars are not a two-line offense. They are a all-the-lines-and-defense-and-oh-seriously-the-goalies-have-a-few-assists-too offense. So, not only were the Stars able to keep the Hawks' off the board until the game was well out of reach, but the Stars' did so without utilizing their checking lines of choice. That is worth something.
Alex Goligoski and Johnny Oduya also deserve a lot of credit for their strong defensive work tonight. There is probably a more thankless job than "Being not John Klingberg on the Dallas Defense," but I'm not sure what it is. (Maybe being a Dallas goalie, actually.)
The power play is clicking. The goaltending is looking better each game. The penalty kill has been lights-out for a little while now. Players are scoring all over the lineup. Rookies are stepping up. I mean, I'm sure there are other things you want to see happening to a team just a few games before the playoffs, but I can't imagine there are all that many more of them. Let's enjoy this little pole-placement race down the stretch, eh?
Your Stars are officially back in the second-season race. Breathe deeply, friends. It's all gravy for a little while. And hey, who doesn't love gravy? That is a rhetorical question.