You often hear that sometimes, a team just needs to get away from the familiarities of the home life to begin to gel. In one of the more road-heavy portions of the schedule, the Dallas Stars have definitely kissed their families good-bye and embarked on one of the most successful road stretches in recent memory. After winning only twice away from the American Airlines Center to start the season off in October, the Stars have won 5 in a row on the road. It’s important to note that it’s not just the fact that the Stars have found success during away games, it’s the fashion and where they’ve been winning that will help bond this team together and carry them far into a long season.
After battling back from a 2-0 deficit to earn a point in an overtime loss to the red hot Colorado Avalanche, the Stars headed north of the border to face the Senators in Ottawa. Having jumped out to a 2-0 lead of their own, Dallas allowed Ottawa to tie the game up after two periods. Things looked to be shored up for the Stars when Ottawa scored on their own goal, but Star-killer, Bobby Ryan tied the game up with 10 seconds remaining and the game would head to the shootout. The Stars would escape with the extra point and make the trek down to Boston for the long awaited return of Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley.
In Boston, the Stars would jump out to the early lead once again thanks to the captain, Jamie Benn, however, the lead wouldn’t last as long as it did against the Senators as Torey Krug tipped a shot from former Dallas Star, Reilly Smith just 40 seconds later. The game remained hard fought and went back and forth all night until Milan Lucic wristed a shot past Kari Lehtonen half way through the 3rd period. Then the game got “weird” (see the 3rd period weird reference there), and in my opinion, set in motion what would become the glue for the team’s recent cohesion. Vern Fiddler was hauled down during a scoring chance and was awarded the first penalty shot of his career. Fiddler wasted no time skating in and putting the puck over the glove of Tuukka Rask. Again, the extra period would come up empty so the Stars and Bruins went to the skills competition. In nothing short of fairy tale fashion, Stanley Cup Final sweetheart, Patrice Bergeron scored the only shootout goal against Kari Lehtonen, however, it was the return of Seguin and Peverley that ended Boston’s evening as both scored on their shootout attempts.
Two nights later, the Stars would head to The Joe and face off against their former conference rivals, the Detroit Red Wings. Things, this time seemed to play out in its regular fashion as Detroit jumped out to a 2-0 lead of their own, yet as the 2nd period started to tick down to a finale, Shawn Horcoff put the Stars on the board with 21 seconds remaining. After giving up the worst goal in the game of hockey (the last minute goal), Benn would tie the game up with one of his patented moves in which he completely undresses the defense and makes the goaltender look silly. Of course, these are still the Red Wings and Pavel Datsyuk is still the greatest player in the game today. With a weave through the defense of his own, Datsyuk slapped the puck past Lehtonen and the Stars looked as if they were going to leave Detroit with just a moral victory. However, with just a minute and a half and on the abysmal power play, Cody Eakin, who had fought hard all game long was finally rewarded with the tying goal. The hero against Boston, Peverley didn’t wait for the shootout as he put the puck past Howard with 0:19 remaining in the extra period.
So the foundation had been set. The Stars staved off comebacks from Ottawa and Boston and fought back against Detroit, all on the road and all within 5 nights of each other. The belief in one another was evident when Chicago came in for a quickie against Dallas. Despite going 0-6 on the power play and losing 5-2, the Stars actually played a very good game against the defending champion Blackhawks to the point where the only glaring issue was the ineptitude with the man advantage. Instead of dwelling on the final score, the Stars obviously took the positives and headed out for the infamous Western Canada roadtrip that most Stars fans dreaded in the past because of the numerous late starts.
And here we are. Two games in Western Canada. Two wins. Yes, the wins are against inferior teams that the Stars should beat, but in today’s NHL, there’s no such thing as a “gimme” game. Especially when it comes to Edmonton who always goes into another gear when Dallas comes into town (still bitter about the 90s apparently), so to come out of Edmonton with the win is definitely a relief, but then you’ve got another monkey looming around the corner: the 2nd game of a back-to-back.
Having only won 4 times in the 2nd of a back-to-back in the last 3 seasons (Yes, you read that correctly, 4 times in 3 years), the Stars faced off tonight against a Calgary team that everyone was saying will be a much tougher test. The only tough part of the test was the dreaded power play when the Stars actually had a double minor assessed to Calgary and it was the Flames who came away with the goal. The Stars would ultimately score on their final power play of the evening, but by that time (actually, by the time the double minor to Calgary was called, the game was seemingly out of hand), Tyler Seguin had already notched a hat trick (his 4th goal was the power play goal) and Jamie Benn had 6 points.
The Road Warrior Stars seem to be coming together quite nicely. Sure, we’d like to see some production from the power play, but perhaps it’s true about what happens to teams when they face tough times and hard battles on the road. You gain a stronger sense of family and brotherhood. When you’ve got two games you had to fend off comebacks and another that you had to claw your way back into, you tell your teammates that you’re going to give everything you’ve got for 60 minutes or more. As with all relationships, trust and communication must be the foundational element of building the relationship. Having fought hard together and being alone with your team, away from the distraction of kids and wives and/or girlfriends, these Stars are starting to align. Once the foundation is settled, then the components of the power play and defense can be addressed. Once you can address those facets with a team that believes, they will be more receptive, they will be more successful and the rest of the hockey world will begin to take notice. Watch out, some already are.