The Dallas Stars may or may not win their series against the St. Louis Blues. That's not what this article is about. It's not about how the Stars got superb goaltending and won a tense, low-scoring game 1. Nor is it about how the floodgates opened, the ‘keepers wobbled and St. Louis skated away with a goal-rich overtime win in game 2. No, this is a piece about perception, specifically, about how we as fans, and how the hockey world in general, sees the Dallas Stars.
It started with a quote. Current Blues head coach (and former Stars head coach) Ken Hitchcock was asked about his team's game 1 loss, and about the Dallas Stars in general. His response was interesting, to say the least:
"I think there's a realization that this is a better team than anybody we've played — nothing to take away from Chicago, but this is a better team, and we're going to have to be even better than we were against Chicago if we expect to win," Hitchcock said. "I think everybody's realized that and then we've got to put our work boots on and get to work." - Via the St. Louis Post Dispatch
Now to be clear, there's an element of gamesmanship in Hitch's remarks. He has a vested interest in motivating his team. Presenting the Stars (or any playoff opponent) as anything less than a serious threat could lead to complacency, and complacency unchecked is a quick ticket to early elimination. To Hitchcock, the team St. Louis is playing is t he best team in the league.
Instead, the interesting thing to me was how NBC's pre-game coverage handled the quote. In particular, how they completely punted on the discussion. As if it wasn't even worth considering. How could the Dallas Stars possibly be considered a more dangerous opponent than the Chicago Blackhawks?
Obviously, the Stars cannot touch Chicago on an organizational level. Yet. Three Cups in a cap league is an incredible achievement, credit where credit is due. With that said, the 2015/2016 Stars certainly had their way with the 2015/2016 Hawks. It wasn't even particularly close.
The widespread incredulity that the Stars could compete - this year - is absurd. How could the 50-23-9 Dallas Stars, how could the #1 seed in the Western Conference, how could the #2 seed in the league overall possibly be better than the Hawks? They only went 4-1 against those same Hawks this past season. They only outscored those Hawks 20-11 and had a better goal differential overall (11 goals better) for the year.
It certainly sounds like there's plenty to discuss to me.
Right now, we should be talking about two excellent hockey teams displaying tremendous versatility through two wildly entertaining games. The first was a goaltending clinic with 74 combined shots with the supposedly undersized Stars out-hitting (32-26) their opponents. In the second the Blues chased Kari Lehtonen but couldn't hold a two-goal lead in the third period. Seven combined goals that time, plus 59 shots and 65 hits.
It is fair to say Dallas has struggled under the weight of St. Louis' forecheck, but how have the Blues handled Dallas' transition game? 42 SOG in game one, 34 SOG in game two, both one-goal decisions, sure doesn't paint the picture of a team completely out of its depth. Is it that difficult to imagine a version of this series that is 2-0 in the Stars' favor?
Ditto the Blues, and that's my problem. From NBC's national broadcast all the way down to subreddits and comment boards, the Stars are being treated like an outlier, hot trash. I read more about how Jamie Benn's scoring title last season benefited from injuries elsewhere in the league than I do about the fact he followed it up by finishing second this year, or that he's , you know, leading the whole dang league in post-season scoring.
There's less vitriol around the cap-crippled, underperforming Ducks than an legitimately up-and-coming Stars team holding its own against a presumptive Stanley Cup favorite without the benefit of its best pure goal-scorer. That's wrong, and it's lazy. It's a shame, too, because these are better teams and this is a better series than anything the Eastern Conference can offer.
Maybe if Jamie Benn were a No. 1 overall pick like John Tavares, maybe if the Blues had a Penguin on their chest instead, maybe the respect thing shouldn't bother me as much as it does.
Hopefully, the Stars feel the same way and use this showcase against the OMG St. Louis Blues to prove a point. They better, because it's pretty clear nobody else is going to.