There’s been a common theme emerging about the Dallas Stars working their way to be Western Conference champions and Stanley Cup finalists:
- As corny as it may sound, the Stars just seem to be lacking a kind of magic that past champs have had in abundance. The Defector
- “We were right there. It’s a very slim margin.” The Golden Knights controlled the play for much of the series against the Stars and looked like the better team. Now they are left wondering what went wrong after being eliminated in five games. Sportsnet
- “The Golden Knights felt they were the superior team right up until the final goal crossed the goal line, and on paper they probably are.” The Athletic
- And on, and on, and on.
So to recap: boring, not as talented, and not as deserving of where they are? Got it. If that’s how you feel, you haven’t really been paying attention to the Dallas Stars at all.
There’s a lot to unpack about this team in just this year but there is a select moment from recent memory that it seems the wider hockey community has forgotten. In December of 2018, then-CEO of the team Jim Lites publicly called his Captain and top center, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, respectively, “fucking horseshit.”
A year and a half and a pandemic later, would it not be the ultimate mic drop if Benn hoisted the Stanley Cup as if to say “Who’s fucking horseshit?” That alone would be enough for a casual hockey fan to root for. Because who among us haven’t had a boss or teacher or professor or role model they’d like to show up to who said they weren’t good enough?
But if that’s not enough, consider the year this team has had. They went into the season last year having taken a big gamble on signing the then-34-year-old Joe Pavelski, who had never been a part of any other organization outside of the San Jose Sharks, to a three-year, $7.0 million contract. Ostensibly, his signing was to add offense to a team that was in desperate need of contributions in that area.
Then out of the gate, the team went 1-7-1. They scored two goals per game in that stretch. All of a sudden, that “offensive weapon” signed in the offseason wasn’t having its intended impact. But people forget how much of a change that had to be for Pavelski. Not just from a professional standpoint (new rink, new teammates, new system) but also personally. Getting a family comfortable in a completely new town and state isn’t like flipping some kind of switch. It took Pavelski time to get acclimated, on and off the ice, and to develop chemistry with his new teammates.
Oh, did we mention the tornados? Around 9 PM on Sunday, October 20th, Dallas was devastated by tornados that ripped through large swaths of North Dallas neighborhoods. The path of the tornados was directly centered over several Stars players’ homes. Ben Bishop had windows blown out by the storms, and Benn drove over to his place to pick up him, his wife, and their son so they could get some sleep that evening. They’d end up staying with him for a length of time while their home was repaired. Seguin had a previous home he still owned but had been in the process of trying to sell that sustained heavy damage:
The team played less than 24 hours at home when they hosted the Ottawa Senators. It was a 2-1 effort in which Bishop played very well. Enter then the Minnesota Wild at the end of October. The Stars went down early in the game, 3-0, before Alexander Radulov had seen quite enough. He sparked the Stars’ comeback effort with a second period goal that came with just 48 seconds left in the middle frame. Dallas stormed out of the intermission scoring five more goals to complete a 6-3 win.
That win would go on to spark a 14-1-1 streak through most of November, in which the team was the hottest in the entire league through that stretch. They hit the American Thanksgiving holiday in a playoff position, a bellwether of sorts for which teams will make the postseason, considering the high proportion of those in the past that qualified for the postseason at that point in the NHL calendar.
On the dawning of December 10th, the Stars were comfortably in a playoff position. Something was amiss at morning skate when general manager Jim Nill was seen around the locker room at morning skate (he’s not usually there on a day-to-day basis) prior to the team taking on the New Jersey Devils. He announced shortly thereafter at a press conference that Jim Montgomery, who had helmed the Stars to the playoffs the year before and had course-corrected the team to a top three position in the Central Division, was fired and Rick Bowness would take over as interim head coach.
The reason cited was “unprofessional conduct”, and to this day Nill has never discussed the incident that led to the firing. Montgomery later came out with his side of the story in which he disclosed that he had undergone treatment for an alcohol addiction.
Less than three weeks later, the Stars hosted the Winter Classic in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl. While many questioned whether Dallas would attract enough attendance to make the event worthy of being placed in such a non-traditional market, they set the second-highest attendance ever at the league’s marquee event when more than 85,000 people showed up for the game. (Behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings that faced off in the Big House, which has a seating capacity nearly 20,000 seats larger than the Cotton Bowl.)
With all eyes on the Stars, the team went down 2-0 early thanks, in part, to Corey Perry’s longest ever walk of shame in hockey after he elbowed Ryan Ellis in the head and gave the Nashville Predators a major power play to work on. Alexander Radulov scored the tying goal in yet another massive come-from-behind win for the Stars. That would be a hallmark of this team in the regular season — and it would follow them into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As the Stars hit mid-March, they were in a tailspin. A 0-4-2 record saw the cushion between the Stars and the rest of the playoff field shrink.
Then the sports world paused.
Dallas Stars coaches took the time quarantined at home to study what was working well for the team, and what wasn’t. They studied what other teams around the league did well, and what they could adapt to best fit their defensive prowess and the components of their roster. They prepared for the eventual return to play training camp and tweaked how they play in order to generate more offense.
The round robin games looked disastrous, and Dallas only finished as a third seed because the St. Louis Blues somehow looked even worse than the Stars. There was plenty to not like about the team in those three games. But, they were just warmups — an adjustment period, of sorts, for the modified Stars system to get comfortable in real game experience.
Their series against the Calgary Flames featured a number of exciting moments. A Joe Pavelski hat trick. A four-goal effort by Denis Gurianov. Late-game tying goals and overtime wins. A Minnesota-in-October-esque bludgeoning in the elimination game when the Stars went down 3-0 only to storm back with a 7-3 win.
In the second round, nearly every pundit picked the Colorado Avalanche to handle the Stars easily. Ben Bishop remain injured, and Anton Khudobin was facing a tall task to backstop Dallas against one of the most dangerous offenses in the Western Conference. Though the games weren’t always pretty by either side, they were compelling and exciting. No lead was safe. Again Dallas recovered from multi-goal leads to come back and win games. Again they saw contributions from up and down their lineup. Joel Kiviranta, who had played a grand total of 11 games and scored just one goal in NHL games this season, scored a hat trick (including the overtime game winner) to advance the Stars in Game 7 after blowing a 3-1 series lead.
Once more, the pundits picked the Vegas Golden Knights to handily dispatch the Stars in the Western Conference Finals. They were healthier than the Avalanche, just as lethal offensively, had great goaltending to make any team left in the playoffs envious, and played a good defensive game. Dallas did what they’ve done to shut down teams like that in the regular season - limited their chances in the high danger areas, conceded low-percentage chances, and had a goaltender stand on their head when needed to keep the game close. They combined all that with timely goal scoring when it truly counted.
Everything about this season and postseason has built and shaped this team. They’re resilient. They believe they aren’t ever really out of games, because more often than not, they aren’t. They’re the kings of comeback efforts. They are far from boring, and everyone would know it if they took a step back and looked at the totality of this season.
But for some, that still won’t be enough to root for this team. So here are further reasons to root for the Stars’ success this Stanley Cup Final:
- Anton Khudobin, the 34-year-old career backup and bringer of childish wonder, started his first playoff game of his career with Ben Bishop injured. He’s backstopped the team all the way to the Final, and done so with that same gleeful innocence he’s always had.
GOOD MORNING, Y'ALL!!! pic.twitter.com/maUjvJzyE6— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) September 15, 2020
- Mattias Janmark missed the entire 2016-2017 season with Osteochondritis Dissecans, a degenerative knee condition that causes bone underneath the cartilage to die because of reduced blood flow. It could have ended his career, but instead he’s now a key component of the Stars’ two-way game.
- Joe Pavelski is one of the oldest active players in the league without a Stanley Cup Win. He had to leave his only team he’s played with his entire career last season, and now finds himself four wins away in his first year in a new organization.
- Joel. Fucking. Kiviranta.
- Jamie Benn is playing arguably his best hockey in several seasons, leading his team on and off the ice. They’ve always wanted to run through a wall for him, but this season and this team seems to be even more ready than those past to follow him into battle. See also: fucking horseshit.
- Tyler Seguin has matured so much this year, between his commitment to playing well with and without the puck, marching in a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas this summer, being one of the only players to kneel for the anthem as the league resumed play, and continuing his charitable work within the Dallas community he now calls home. See also: fucking horseshit.
- Denis Gurianov was a healthy scratch in 2018 when the Texas Stars made the Calder Cup Final. Now, he scores the game winning goal to send his team to the Stanley Cup Final.
- Miro Heiskanen is a stud in the making, and those in Dallas that have watched him the last two seasons know he should be a Norris Trophy contender. Now the world is learning that, too.
- Andrew Cogliano has the fourth-longest iron man streak in NHL history at 830 games. He’s mister consistency and one part of the FCC line responsible for shutting down opposing superstars.
- Alexander Radulov left the NHL in 2008 to play in the KHL. After fulfilling the remainder of his NHL contract in the 2011-2012 season that wasn’t without some controversy, he returned to the KHL for another four seasons. He returned to the NHL a different kind of player, and he’s the Stars’ leader for “goals scored in key junctures”, whether that be in individual games or within a full season.
- Justin Dowling was reunited in the bubble with his baby girl, who was born in March during the NHL’s COVID-19 pause. This video alone should have you rooting for the Stars.
- Jamie Oleksiak is rounding into a more complete blueliner, and absolutely no one would have expected this kind of goal from him, but it’s par for the course in 2020.
- Jason Dickinson once was asked why he seemed to take body parts/sticks/pucks in the facial region. He told the media, “I guess I just have a face.”
- John Klingberg gets a lot of flack for his defensive play by Stars fans, but he’s one of the league’s best puck-moving defensemen. This has been one of the best playoff appearances in his career.
- Stephen Johns returned to play this year after missing more than a season and a half with post-traumatic headaches and post-concussion syndrome. He opened up about the struggle he had dealing with something he thought could have ended his career, and scored one of the most emotional goals you’ll ever witness.
- Stars video coach Kelly Forbes is one of the best in the league when it comes to goal challenges.
- Interim head coach Rick Bowness took over as head coach to help the organization out. Everyone has a good story to tell about him in a career that’s spanned a number of decades. If there was a coaches’ equivalent to “oldest active player not to win the Cup”, Bowness would be at the front of that cohort.
There are so many storylines with this team that make them easy to root for. You just have to be willing to dig in and find the stories. Luckily, we did a lot of the digging for you.
Welcome to the Dallas Stars bandwagon, there’s room here for everyone.