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Second Round

Montgomery achieving success in first playoffs as Stars coach

Dallas tied in second-round series against Blues heading home for Game 3

by Tracey Myers @Tramyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- David Carle didn't hesitate when asked about Jim Montgomery's potential with the Dallas Stars.

Carle was Montgomery's assistant at the University of Denver before Montgomery was hired as Stars coach May 4, 2018. He helped Montgomery guide Denver to five straight NCAA tournament appearances and a championship in 2017.

"He'll win a [Stanley] Cup there," said Carle, now coach at Denver. "The sky's the limit for them in Dallas."

 

[RELATED: Complete Blues vs. Stars series coverage]

 

It's been quite a first season in Dallas for Montgomery, who coached the Stars to the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference, their first postseason appearance since 2016. 

The Stars return home to play the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round at American Airlines Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS, SN). The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1.

"This has been so much fun. It's been incredible," Montgomery said of the playoffs. "The intensity, how hard the players play, on both teams. Every game I've watched, it jumps out at you. How much everyone is sacrificing for the team. That's been the best part of the year."

Montgomery took over a Dallas team with its share of coaching turnover. At the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago in September, Stars forward Jamie Benn said he told Montgomery that he hoped he would be his last coach. In his nine previous seasons with the Stars, Benn played for Marc Crawford (2009-11), Glen Gulutzan (2011-13), Lindy Ruff (2013-17) and Ken Hitchcock (2017-18).

Of course, there were adjustments. 

"We tried to get used to a new system, the way he wants us to play and went through some ups and downs," Benn said. "But halfway through the year really figured it out. That's when we took off as a group and for the most part, it's been great with him."

Video: Bishop stops 32 shots in Game 2 victory for the Stars

With a defense-first mentality and strong goaltending from Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 goals-against average, .934 save percentage in 46 regular-season games) and Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 save percentage in 41 games), the Stars are a stingy team. The 200 goals (2.44 per game) they allowed this season were second fewest in the NHL behind the New York Islanders (191) and their fewest since 2006-07, when they allowed 193 goals (2.35 per game).

It isn't always the prettiest hockey, and the Stars didn't have great offensive numbers -- they were 29th in the NHL with 209 goals (2.55 per game) -- but it's effective hockey.

"Everyone says scoring is up this year but that's not really how we play," Benn said. "We're committed to playing in our own end and focused from our goalie out. It's given us success. In the past, we didn't play like that, so that's probably why early in the year it took some time for us to figure it out. We all bought in and believed what he was throwing down would work, and it has. We're sticking with that game plan and enjoying winning games."

Stu Barnes is an assistant on Montgomery's staff, a role he also had in Dallas under Crawford and Hitchcock. He said the transition to Montgomery went smoothly.

"One thing that really impressed me was how clear he was on exactly what he wanted the team to look like and how he wanted to play," Barnes said. "He's able to watch video and pull small details out of the game, whether it's offensive habits, head up, stick ready to shoot. Even the other side of it, like defensive positioning. It's very impressive how well he picks the game up very quickly, sees it and relates it to the players and everyone involved."

That attention to detail was evident from the start of Montgomery's tenure with the Stars.

"That's how we were going to win games," forward Jason Dickinson said. "It wasn't going to be shootouts, it wasn't going to be running the score up. We knew we weren't going to be scoring seven goals a night. We weren't that kind of team, from the beginning. But if we played to the details and played the right way, we knew we were going to be alright."

Video: Jim Montgomery on his first season as a head coach

Montgomery has had a good deal of coaching success. He was 118-45-21 in three seasons with Dubuque of the United States Hockey League, which won the Clark Cup in 2011 and 2013. At Denver, he was 125-57 with 26 ties from 2013-18 and was named Spencer Penrose national coach of the year in 2017, when the Pioneers won the national title.

Boston Bruins forward Danton Heinen played for Montgomery at Denver from 2014-16.

"He was, for sure, definitely very detail-oriented and smart, systems-wise," said Heinen, who had 93 points (36 goals, 57 assists) in two seasons at Denver. "He always found a way to get the best out of his players and be peaking near the end of the year. He's a pretty good coach, to me."

As a former player -- Montgomery played 122 NHL games with the Blues, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks and Stars -- he said communication is critical and that he usually initiates the conversations with players.

"When they're going good there are reminders of why they're going good," Montgomery said. "When they're going bad it's because of whatever those things they're doing that's causing them to get frustrated and/or lose confidence. That's when we go to them. What takes time is getting to know the personalities on your team. Some like one-on-one communication, some like to just talk while you're skating around the ice before practice or pregame skate. Some like to be brought in often, because they prefer a lot of communication."

Carle said Montgomery reads people fast.

"It doesn't take him three months to get to know what makes someone tick; it may take one conversation," Carle said. "His ability to read situations, read a room, is incredible." 

How much Montgomery can achieve with the Stars, especially during the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, remains to be seen. But he's off to an excellent start. 

"You always hate to get too excited, because you know everyone else will get better, too. But it's nice for everyone in the organization to be in the spot we are," Barnes said. "Just to get into the playoffs was a big deal. Now being here in the second round, who knows what happens in the next little while. Guys have been good at staying in the present and not getting ahead of it, as has [Montgomery], so it's been enjoyable that way."

NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin contributed to this report

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