The 2019-2020 Dallas Stars seemed poised to give us a fairytale sports story. A Cinderella-esque “from worst to first” type tale after starting the season 1-7-1 and pulling themselves back into the playoff picture. After enduring a number of extreme highs (the 14-1-1 stretch, hosting the Winter Classic) to extreme lows (a March slump, an unexpected coaching change when the team had momentum pointed in the right direction), and in the weirdest season we’ll likely ever see thanks to COVID-19 putting the world on pause, winning the Stanley Cup would have been the ending befitting a Charles Perreault story.
But reality rarely gives us fairytales.
Tonight was no different. The Dallas Stars lost the Stanley Cup Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a series that was entertaining and, at times, full of momentum swings of great magnitude from team to team. After winning the first game in the series, the Lightning rattled off three straight before the Stars forced the Game 6 to begin with. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get one more comeback win to force the Game 7 for a winner-take-all game, and the Lightning hoisted Lord Stanley while the Stars looked on in abject sadness tonight.
It’d be easy to be sad, or angry, or feel like the Stars will never reach the apex of this sport ever again. But tonight, thankfulness should be the overwhelming emotion.
Thankful that the Stars were able to give hockey fans some sense of normalcy in a world that is very much not right now. They gave us the opportunity to critique performance, and tactics, and analytics, and goaltending decisions, and ride the sheer joy of thrilling comebacks, and the heart-wrenching devastation of gut-punching losses while placing the greater worries and stresses of global pandemic life out of the mind for a little while every couple of days.
Almost every year, 99 percent of sports fans’ stories end without the team you’re supporting taking the holy grail. While that is still true today, it’s hard to be as sad given the state of the world and the incredibly difficult circumstances in which the Stars had to live as they got to this point. The sacrifices made by the players, the coaches, the training staff, the executives, the support staff in the bubble, the front office workers that are still furloughed that worked hard all season long to support the team, employees working remotely while the team has been in Edmonton, and all of the families that haven’t seen their loved ones in months as the Stars have been in the bubble should be recognized and appreciated.
So thank you for sharing your loved ones with the world to give us this wild ride and incredible memories made along the way.
Like Anton Khudobin backstopping the team to a Stanley Cup appearance after spending so much of his career as a back-up goaltender.
Like Jamie Benn and John Klingberg, faithful soldiers of the Stars through many not-so-great seasons, finally getting a taste of this kind of playoff success and putting up some of their best hockey throughout the playoffs.
Like Joe Pavelski setting the record for most postseason goals scored by an American-born player in NHL history, set as a member of a new team in his first season not being a part of the San Jose Sharks organization.
Like finding the emotional dissonance that came with cheering for Corey Perry after spending so many seasons having him be the pest on the other side of the ice only to see him be the hero in the Stanley Cup Final to get the Stars one game closer to winning it all.
Like Miro Heiskanen finally getting recognized by the hockey world as the elite defenseman he is and that Stars fans have had the pleasure to watch every game of his career so far — and realizing he’s going to be a Norris Trophy winner sooner rather than later. (And also all of the franchise records he set with his postseason performance this year, the loftiness of Sergei Zubov that for so many years it seemed no one would ever come close to touching as a Star.)
Like Joel Kiviranta etching his name in Finnish hockey lore with a hat trick in his first playoff game of his NHL career and gifting us with an excellent nickname for him for the rest of time (Joel Fucking Kiviranta). Add to that the Joe Pavelski and Denis Gurianov hat tricks, the only such hat tricks in the postseason history of the Dallas Stars — all occurring this year on this unexpected run.
Like Joel Hanley scoring his first career NHL goal in the Stanley Cup Final.
Like Justin Dowling playing his first game in front of his daughter in the Stanley Cup Final.
Like the comeback wins and series-winning games, the overtime heroics, the unlikely heroes, and the “WE’RE NOT GOING HOME!” battlecry that embodied the resiliency of this group.
Like all of the series clinched when pundits and fans alike counted the Stars down and out.
Like all of the heavy-weight teams that Dallas went toe-to-toe with and came out the winner against, proving that the Stars are legitimate contenders and aren’t pretenders — even if fans of other markets want them to be.
Like inspiring young players in Texas to aspire to be a future NHLer, even if that means scoring a goal in the elimination game of the Stanley Cup Final against your childhood team like Blake Coleman tonight.
For all of those moments and many more, Stars fans can be very thankful.
Though it wasn’t a fairytale ending, it was still one hell of a story.