Stars vs. Penguins Recap & Observations: The Will For Victory Is Sometimes All That's Needed
Some deep thoughts on the Stars win last night in Pittsburgh.
This is why sports, and in particular hockey, is so amazing. It's why we spend so much of our lives spending money, and time, and energy and emotion on a game in an arena where the team represents not just themselves but an entire organization and fanbase. It's why we care.
Because of moments like Thursday night.
The Dallas Stars seemed like a team that was already beaten and on their way home with a loss after 20 minutes against the Pittsburgh Penguins, limping through a disastrous first period that ended with the Stars looking rattled and lucky to be down only two goals. It was a frustrating period of hockey because the Stars fell victim to everything you know exactly not to do when playing the Penguins.
Don't turn the puck over. Don't take penalties. Don't allow the Penguins to start cycling the puck.
Luckily, Kari Lehtonen seems to finally be settling into his groove a bit. There are still moments where he's fighting the puck, but the Stars netminder made some rather spectacular saves in the first period and into the second to keep his team in the game, until eventually Antoine Roussel pulled the Stars within one after a great one-timer shot from the circle.
Lindy Ruff shuffled his lines around starting at the end of the first period and it will be interesting to see how the line combinations look moving forward. Sometimes a coach will really shake things up within a game just because of the circumstances of those 60 minutes; sometimes, that shakeup can have long-term consequences.
The truth is, the Stars haven't really looked quite right all season long. There have been moments of brilliance, such as the first two periods against Chicago or the third period against Columbus, but this is far from a consistently good team that is playing consistently sound hockey in the first four games of the season.
And that's to be expected, to a point. It's clear the Stars tried to jump straight back into the speed and rhythm of the team that played in the postseason just a few months ago, yet haven't quite seemed to find that groove just yet. There's a level of anticipation and structure needed for the type of game the Stars want to play and just like last season, it's going to take some time for the team to get the chemistry that is needed to really start rolling again consistently through an entire game.
Where the Stars have succeeded, however, is using their ability to make adjustments within a game and using the raw emotion that powers these players to find a way to win. This is two games now where the Stars have used will, character and just pure leadership by example to will their way to a win against two very tough Eastern Conference teams.
These were games the Stars would have lost in previous seasons, even last year. Thursday night's game against Pittsburgh should have continued along the path that was started, with the Stars resorting to "all for one" mode and every individual trying to win the game on their own. It's happened countless times before, especially against teams like Pittsburgh and Chicago and Boston and especially on the road.
In fact, Thursday's win was the first victory for the Stars in Pittsburgh since Blake Sloan was scoring goals and the country's biggest concern was whether N-Sync or Backstreet Boys were better.
Unlike the win in Columbus, the Stars didn't even play that great of a third period. The Penguins and Stars skated a rather dull first 10 minutes or so of the third, with Seguin noting after the game that it appeared as if neither team really wanted the win.
Then, with time waning down, Lindy Ruff made a "bold" move and put his three best players together. They responded almost immediately with what should have been a goal that was immediately waved off; a no-goal call that woke the bear on the Stars bench and lit the fire we've seen this team capable of when they're backs are against the wall.
"It's just the leadership of the team, again," said Lindy Ruff after the game. "You can give some of those plays Jamie made at the blue line. The play Spezza made. Then, for those guys to hook up with Spezza on the power play goal, that's the type of leadership we're looking for. I've had some conversations with Spezza, just be patient and it'll come. I thought tonight he did a lot of good things and helped us win it in the end."
The raw emotion displayed by the Stars at the end of the game, not just after Benn's tying goal but when Tyler Seguin inexplicably won it with just 2.9 seconds remaining - that's how teams are forged. It's contagious, and this is a team that so obviously feeds off that hunger and that emotion and sometimes it may be a detriment, but when it comes across in victories like these it's when the game truly starts to become special.
This was far from a perfect game. The first period was some of the worst 20 minutes of hockey the Stars have had in quite some time, and might have been the worst period yet under Lindy Ruff. Yet the Stars adapted, they made plays when they needed to and they worked hard to overcome the mistakes and give themselves a chance to win the game in the end.
"[Goligoski] had some tough plays in the game, came back and made two plays that made a difference for us," said Ruff. "We're all going to make mistakes, it's how you answer those mistakes. I thought how he answered his earlier mistakes gave us the ability to win the game."
It wasn't just Goligoski, who had a bad first period but made several key defensive plays in the second and third period.
It was Jason Spezza, who made two absolutely brilliant passes in the final minutes to spark the Stars comeback.
It was Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, invisible for almost the entire game until putting the team on their back for the win.
It was Kari Lehtonen, making key stop after key stop and allowing one actual goal from the Penguins despite a night of great chances in front of him.
It was Jordie Benn, who had scored an own-goal but bounced back with two tremendous defensive plays later in the game as the Stars began to lock down on the Penguins.
It was Antoine Roussel, who was effectively benched after a bad penalty but then scored his second goal of the season to cut the lead in half.
It was Lindy Ruff and the Stars coaching staff, who made the changes and adjustments needed to put his team in position to win.
It was the Captain, Jamie Benn, not just content with the tie but winning a big faceoff against Sidney Crosby and going for the puck -- almost exactly like the goal against Anaheim in the playoffs -- only to draw a tripping penalty that led to the winning goal.
What a win.