COMMENTARY | The Dallas Stars were riding high. They were 5-1-2 over their last games, and, after an overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche to open November, had won three straight games. All on the road, and all in extra time.
But all things must pass. The Stars, upon returning home, hosted the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night. And prior to the game there was no small amount of trepidation amongst Stars fans. After all, not-so-distant memories of an 8-1 drubbing at the hands of the Blackhawks at home were still fresh. And if one were to look only at the final score of this latest Stars-Blackhawks game, one might think that they didn't fare much better.
Except they did.
A 5-2 victory for Chicago puts a certain gloss on the game that is somewhat misleading. It was not a three goal victory by any stretch of the imagination. The game could have gone either way, and indeed, it pivoted on a tragically unfortunate bounce. With the Stars up 2-1 midway through the second period, the puck got tangled in Erik Cole's skates as he came back into Kari Lehtonen's crease on the backcheck… and was inadvertently kicked in to the net as Cole fell in with it. Apparently 'distinct kicking motion' doesn't apply to one's own net. Blooper reel for sure, but worse, it allowed Chicago to tie the game at a point when the Stars had been controlling possession and driving play. Momentum flipped, and the Blackhawks added a powerplay goal late in the period to gain a lead they would never relinquish.
Well so what? Everybody, at least everybody not in Dallas, picked the Blackhawks to win this one. And they did. Close the book on it. 5-2, Blackhawks.
But that doesn't tell the story. Or not the important parts anyway. Dallas went toe to toe with arguably the best team in the league and outpossessed and outshot them. Kari Lehtonen played well, but he didn't have to be spectacular to keep the Stars in it. He was, but he didn't have to be, and that's a crucial difference from some Stars games we've seen, where a magical goaltender is all that lies between the Stars and a shellacking.
It's important to note as well that the Stars returned home fresh from victories in Boston and Detroit, and must have felt like they'd continued their road trip to Chicago. While there may have been a star painted under center ice, a glance around the stands would have rendered an observer at least confused, if not convinced that the game was being played in Chicago. Let's just say, the Blackhawks bandwagon is huge. Of course it is. They've won the Cup twice in four years. And as a result, the Stars were playing in a somewhat hostile environment, despite being at home. A fact which casts their performance in an even better light.
This wasn't a game that the Stars were lucky to be in. This was a game where they looked like a contending team, and, with a bit more puck luck, could have had the result they wanted.
The Stars are as yet flying under the radar. There have been a few national mentions of the club, but for the most part-and this is of course influenced by the unfavorable standings and the strength of the Western Conference-Dallas is a forgotten team in the Central Division.
And no, I'm not saying that the Stars are a better team than Chicago. Or that they are already legitimate contenders. This is still a rebuilding year. But if the Stars continue playing as they have this past week, heads will, if not roll, then at least begin to turn.
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