The Dallas Stars Game 7 Loss Burns Deep, and That's the Best Sign of All
That anger you're feeling at the end of the Stars season right now? That's the best sign this franchise has had since 2008.
It's still a little too soon to have perspective, I know.
It's too close to the Dallas Stars collapse in a Game 7 loss to the St. Louis Blues. The what ifs are still going through everyone's mind.
What if Valeri Nichushkin had hit that open net? What if Lindy Ruff had read the tea leaves and pulled Kari Lehtonen after the disallowed Blues goal? What if Patrick Eaves hadn't taken a friendly fire shot in Game 1? What if Tyler Seguin hadn't gone for the check in March against the Tampa Bay Lightning?
Sports as an industry is wrought with such questions. After all, all but one team in every league, every season ends on a note that is bittersweet at best and heartbreaking at worst.
But what is different about the end of this Stars season is that little simmering bubble of anger.
Some of that is irrational. After all, if you went to most Stars fans back in September, even before the 1-6 preseason, and told them the Stars would win the Western Conference regular-season title, advance to the second round and fall in seven games to the team with the third-highest point total, they would have been over the moon. This was a team coming off a post-season miss despite solid improvements and one with big questions both on defense and in goal. Combine that with the top-heavy nature of the division and conference, and a much more reasonable hope was a playoff berth and a chance at a series win.
That's an important part of the perspective. This is a young team on the rise and still learning how to put everything together. Going from a playoff miss to the Western Conference Finals would have been almost unbelievable, and going from a playoff miss to the type of season the Stars had is amazing.
But part of the anger is a wonderful step forward. The anger is there because the outstanding regular season gave the franchise, and fans, reasonable expectations of possibility for the first time in a decade.
It was easy to be satisfied, if gut-punched, after the Game 6 loss in 2014. That was a team with no notches in its belt, that came out of nowhere (okay, with roots in a still bizarre player evaluation in Boston) to even get to the playoffs. They played with house money from the moment the clinched the playoff berth at home.
The anger started to burble a bit last season, with a stellar season from the forwards and a decent-if-flawed defensive core undermined by a historically bad year from the goaltending. But the finale and offseason was bittersweet more than angry, with Jamie Benn mollifying the crowd with the Art Ross win and the apathy of missed playoffs past so close. What really could fans expect?
This time, though, with so much more accomplishment to look back on, the anger has burbled to the surface, whether at whipping boys or more legitimate targets. Because expectations were there, reasonable or not. Instead of shrugging at yet another season gone, the sense of possibility, that this group could do Something, with that capital S, was finally back. And when that Something went up in Game 7 flames, no one was satisfied regardless of what an accomplishment it was to come as far as they did.
And that is probably the best sign of all for the franchise.
After almost a decade as the moribund team caught between the past and the future with no accomplishments to speak of, the possibility and the belief have returned. It's no longer good enough to wait for next season's prospects or a free-agent signing to get the team to a first-round berth. The goals have become much more lofty - Top 4 team in the NHL, at least via the playoff gauntlet, or go home.
That's exactly what you want as a fan, as a player and as an organization. It's fun to be the team who comes out of nowhere to challenge, but it's respectable and enviable to be the team who developed in a way where winning meaningful games should be an expectation in the present and future, not a happy surprise.
The Stars are in that transition between new kid on the block and established threat (and yes, you can be an established team without any Cup victories to your name).
This is what Stars fans have waited for since shaking hands with the Detroit Red Wings way back in 2008. They are flawed and they are ulcer-inducing and they disappointed. But they are invigorating and they never say die and they grew so, so much so that they could cause a legitimate feeling of what might have been.
To steal some of the organization's favorite marketing terms, they are done being praised for rising and are now being expected to shine. And there is no better news for the organization than that.