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Afterwords: If You Can Say Something Nice, Now Is the Time

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Let’s revel in the playoff-bound Stars, and save the worries and critiques for another day

Philadelphia Flyers v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Go on and close the curtains

‘Cause all we need is candlelight

***

There are only two games left in the 2018-19 season. And, for the first time in three years, that doesn’t meant we know when it’s going to end.

If you didn’t see it yesterday, Josh reminded us all of how it felt when the Stars last made the playoffs after an extended absence.

It’s a great piece—and by the way, who else remembers reading Josh’s wonderful On the Radar pieces when he first came to Dallas and wondering “what kind of double-threat TV guy is this?”—but there’s no denying that this year felt a lot different. There were no press conference cigars, no references to anything this year being “ahead of schedule,” and, perhaps most noticeable of all (and maybe because it wasn’t the final home game of the year), there were no Jamie Benn microphones:

This night was wonderful, all the same. From the surprise Mats Zuccarello return to the knockout punches by Comeau (well, Talbot) and Radulov, there were plenty of reasons for giddiness. But the final minute of celebratory screaming was broken up by a whistle, and I thought that was kind of appropriate. This wasn’t a wholly unrestrained joy, absolute gravy for a fanbase desperate for anything. It was painful—just ask Cogliano or, we fear, Zuccarelloo—and hard, and hard-won. For a 6-2 victory, it sure felt like the Stars had to bail themselves out a bit for most of the game. (And, as always, by “the Stars,” we mean the goaltender.) Except this time, the Stars finally gave Anton Khudobin some goal support. About time.

It’s been the season, really. Even making the playoffs isn’t a success, but a starting point. You step back and look at this team, and it’s still a marvel that it was this tough just to scrape out a wild card spot (even if Derek, Tyler, and probably the least smelly writer of all predicted such a struggle back in October). They’re getting the best goaltending in the entire NHL, and they still needed a great road trip at the end of the season to clinch in game 80.

At the same time, you can see things from the other side. They suffered injuries to Radulov and Bishop (not to mention Zuccarello). They found Taylor Fedun out of necessity, and some like half the forward corps is having a massive down year in terms of goal-scoring. They have a rookie coach who has now admitted that the team pivoted to defense-first hockey after their initial foray into dynamic, offensive hockey sputtered at the start of the year. It evokes memories of 2016-17 Lindy Ruff, who tried a similar repurposing of his available personnel but without the outstanding goaltending to patch the holes in the meantime. It failed then, and pretty miserably. This year, it’s gotten the Stars into the postseason, which is the entire danged point of the regular season, my soccer leanings about the true value of a President’s Trophy notwithstanding.

Anyway, we’ll have plenty of time to talk about the season later. For now, it’s time for a little revelry. I have spent a lot of time critiquing specific plays, players, coaches, trades, and strategy in this space. It’s always easy to find something to criticize in sports, and it’s even easier to do so unfairly, to make lazy comparisons and to tear down anyone who struggles for the barest moment. So, in honor of the Stars redeeming a season that looked in doubt for more than a short period of time, Here is Something Nice About Everyone, or at least the primary Everyones:

Tyler Seguin: He leads the team this season in points and goals, and he leads them all-time in nude photoshoots. Notice that I am not committing to the singular tense, there.

Alexander Radulov: I’m not saying the Stars are nothing without a 32-year-old winger, but the team is basically a quarter less-offensive without him on the ice. And they are not exactly a full dollar of offense to begin with, this year.

Jamie Benn: You know him, you love him, and even without all those sweet, sweet power play assist he’s gotten to boost his point totals in past years, he’s still looking more and more like the playoff beast he’s always been. Also, that talking-to he gave Ryan Hartman last night made me weep in fear even watching on delay via NHL.tv.

John Klingberg: Lithe, sinewy, tricky, ingenious...these are only some of the words used to describe his actions on the Dr. Pepper throne.

Miro Heiskanen: Easily, in my opinion, the Stars’ most important defenseman this season, given the time Klingberg missed. Klingberg is still number one, but Miro is, like, also number one. I would like more of this good thing, please. That 2013-14 playoffs article was fun, but it also reminded me of the Stars’ top four on defense that season, and...yeah.

Esa Lindell: I’m sorry, but why isn’t he going first in every shootout ever? This just feels like Lindell reminding all of us that he contains multitudes. I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to categorize a defenseman less aptly than Lindell. He can do so many things well, and then he can look like a standard safety valve just chipping the puck out of the zone four times in a row and giving Hitch the vapors.

Radek Faksa: He’s going to score a huge goal in the playoffs because he always does. I am as convinced about Benn’s playoff performance as I am about Faksa playing a huge role. And, even better, this year, he doesn’t necessarily have to. Depth, eh?

Jason Spezza: He could have voiced complaints, or even given the terse, professional silence he did after Hitch relegated him from the outset last year. Instead, Spezza has been working hard to work harder, still creating offense with the fourth line (did you see that great feed to Janmark that went off the post last night?) and shooting the puck. Once he starts hitting the net, don’t be surprised if he hits the net, too.

Mattias Janmark: He is having a better season than you’d think, given his point totals. And his breakaway speed in the playoffs is going to victimize some poor, unsuspecting fourth line.

Roope Hintz: His hair is both the most and and least impressive thing about him, and both of those are compliments. Dallas has two scoring lines because Hintz can center one of them.

Jason Dickinson: He can play with the best guys, and his goal last night reminded you that he can score, too. He’s a surprisingly physical player who is going to make a playoff series annoyingly difficult for the opposition. Not a lot of lines you can really coast against on this team, all of a sudden.

Blake Comeau: If he can bring whatever hopeful sorcery he used to score on Talbot into the playoffs, the Stars will be unstoppable. Dude has been around the block, and he rocks a 14.3 shooting percentage in the playoffs. I’ll take that.

Tyler Pitlick: If Pitlick’s recovery allowed him to get back into 2017-18 form, the Stars are suddenly looking kind of...deep? At forward? He does has a plus wrist shot, and that’s something the bottom six was almost wholly devoid of for a while. Dude can skate, too.

Taylor Fedun: Is he the Stars’ best defenseman? Well, I mean, what is truth. But is he the defenseman I most enjoy rooting for this year? I think he might be. If you’ve displaced a recent trade acquisition despite playing on your off-hand side, you are probably doing many, many things right.

Valeri Nichushkin: If not scoring lots of goals is a crime, you’d have to lock up half the roster. But Nichushkin has provided really solid value in other ways, and his size and skating and penalty killing ability will play well in a long series. This is some kind of luxury to have as presumptive 13th forward. Also, fun fact: While on the PK, Nichushkin has been on the ice for one goal against, and one shorthanded goal for. Yes, that’s right: Nichushkin is rocking an Even plus/minus on the penalty kill. Not too bad.

Roman Polák: When he’s not cracking jokes about Heiskanen’s stoicism or providing amazing GIF material, he’s drawing cagey retaliation penalties and burying poor, unsuspecting forward beside the net. In a playoff series with more liberties being taken around the net, I’ll be extremely glad to have him warding off invaders after the whistle. Also, I have memorized the alt code for the “á” in his name, and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for.

Brett Ritchie: If his hand is good to go, don’t be surprised to see him in the lineup with the Stars leading a series 3-1. You want shenanigans and nonsense? Ritchie can throw his body around and get the metacarpals rolling in a pinch. Physical. Presence.

Andrew Cogliano: I’ll take someone who’s been to the playoffs in every one of the last six years, yes please. Cogliano has 25 points in 64 playoff games, and four of those came against Dallas in 2014 (including a shorthanded goal that you may recall).

Mats Zuccarello: Thing he is Best at: Passing, making the Stars into a two-line team, and filling in for Bret on Flight of the Conchords in a pinch. You know he’s got a great voice. You just know it.

Ben Bishop: I think having a Vezina-caliber season is good, but then again, that guy in Tampa does have more wins, so, I dunno. Maybe my goaltending lens is skewed, though. I like the Dallas Stars, so it’s been a wild ride for the last couple decades.

Ben Lovejoy: He is one of the only players on the roster with a Stanley Cup ring, and that came on a Pittsburgh team that proved all of us wrong about what sort of defensive corps you need to win in the postseason. He also has five career playoff goals, which is kind of a lot more than you would have guessed, right?

Anton Khudobin: I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about how Khudobin is the Stars’ savior this year in Bishop’s couple of absences. Not to tempt fate, but does anyone really think he won’t be somewhat likely to play a similar role in the postseason, at some point? The nice thing is, he could, and that would appear to be not the worst thing at all. he’s the 1B Niemi never became.

Jamie Oleksiak: In a tough role, Oleksiak has turned into a calm 7th defenseman with some clicks on the old odometer. He’s become someone that you can count on to take a turn in the lineup, which is not bad for someone that looked lost a couple of years ago.

Jim Montgomery (and Friends): The coaches appear to have the room, and that’s where you want to be in game 80. The power play and penalty kill are both looking dangerous, in a good way, at the right time. This season has had its challenges, and some of them might have been self-imposed. Yet, here we are, with Rick Bowness keeping a Steady-As-She-Goes attitude in the background, Stu Barnes on the bench letting guys know that he knows why they did what they did, and Todd Nelson somehow knowing that Esa Lindell would be a great net-front guy on the power play. Coaches have to find a way or make a way, and Jim Montgomery has done that, through all the ups and downs. Making the dance is never a given for this franchise these days, but it sure does feel like a gift.

Jim Nill: Anton Khudobin alone (for two years!) is kind of a massive A+ on your offseason grade already, but Mats Zuccarello is looking like another huge boon. It’s one thing to add depth pieces or just try to tinker with your bottom six and third defense pairing; it’s another to swing big for your team’s biggest needs, and to connect. Khudobin and Zuccarello are poised to be huge acquisitions at the perfect time that make the Stars stronger, less vulnerable, and more complicated to defeat in a seven-game series. That’s as much as you can ask from any GM at this point in the season.

Mike Moodano/Moo Barnes/Dairyan Hatcher/Landon Bowvine: Easily the MVP of the season, maybe the century.