DAL committed as group TONIGHT

DALLAS -- The flag hangs next to the exit to the Dallas Stars dressing room, so the players can see it each time they take the ice at American Airlines Center. It’s green -- or “Victory Green,” as they call it -- and signed by each member of the team.


It’s a contract, a commitment. It’s what helped the Stars win the Western Conference in the regular season, and it’s what they hope will help them win the Stanley Cup.

“Right from Day One, our whole group has bought into that, putting the team first before any individual stats or accomplishments, and it’s paid off,” said forward Jamie Benn, the captain. “I feel we’ve got a great group in here, and we’re going to try to keep that going here.”

Dallas Stars banner

It’s fitting that the Stars are facing the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference First Round, trailing 1-0 in the best-of-7 series entering Game 2 here Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; SCRIPPS, BSSW, ESPN, TVAS2, SN360).

They faced them in the conference final last season and lost in six games. The biggest difference was depth. The Golden Knights went on to win the Cup.

“I think Vegas showed they were a deeper team than everybody in the League last year, and everyone they went through, their depth, I thought, decided the series,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “You can point to a technical thing here, a technical thing there, but that’s the reality.”

Dallas has improved its depth since, signing forwards Matt Duchene, Craig Smith and Sam Steel as unrestricted free agents July 1; calling up forward Logan Stankoven from Texas of the American Hockey League on Feb. 24; and acquiring defenseman Chris Tanev from the Calgary Flames on Feb. 28.

But to take advantage of it, the players have had to agree to make sacrifices.

DeBoer addressed the players in a meeting Sept. 20.

“The last team standing, the only stat they care about is wins and winning the Cup,” he said, according to a video the Stars posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “It’s not power-play time or ice time or goals or assists or save percentage, OK? It’s wins. That’s the only thing that matters.”

After opening the regular season with a 2-1 shootout win against the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 12, the Stars had four days off until their next game, at Vegas on Oct. 17. They held a retreat in Palm Springs, California. The coaches presented the motto, and the players signed the flag.

“I think it means that you might need to give up a little bit for the common goal of the team,” center Wyatt Johnston said. “Obviously, with a team like this, when we have so many great players, you might have to sacrifice whatever it is, maybe some power play time, whatever it is. Everyone’s in a different situation.

“But I think the message is, it’s for the team. Whatever happens, whatever we’re doing, it’s for the team. So, I think we’ve really kind of bought into that.”

Perhaps this is the prime example:

Forward Jason Robertson had 46 goals last season, seventh in the NHL. Five other forwards had 20 goals: Roope Hintz (37), Benn (33), Joe Pavelski (28), Johnston (24) and Tyler Seguin (21). Dallas finished second in the Central Division and fourth in the Western Conference.

Average ice times declined this season among that group. Robertson went from 18:50 to 18:19, Pavelski from 17:43 to 16:49, Hintz from 17:33 to 17:14, Seguin from 16:37 to 16:33, Benn from 15:47 to 15:07. The exception was Johnston, who rose from 15:29 to 17:00 in his second NHL season.

Forward Mason Marchment also went from 15:42 to 15:04. Duchene went from 18:19 with the Nashville Predators last season to 16:49.

“If you look at the minutes our forwards play, it’s significantly lower than a lot of the top guys in the League, significantly more spread out and, in a lot of cases, significantly less than where some of these guys had been playing in different spots they’ve been in,” DeBoer said. “So, we’ve gotten great buy-in there.”

And great results.

The Stars didn’t have an individual among the top 33 goal-scorers in the NHL. But they had eight players with 20 goals for the first time in franchise history: Johnston (32), Hintz (30), Robertson (29), Pavelski (27), Seguin (25), Duchene (25), Marchment (22) and Benn (21).

“We all had strong years anyway, and as a team, it’s just a lot of fun to play,” Duchene said. “The cool thing is, when you’re maybe not out there in situations you’re used to being out there, you’re watching great players do their thing, so you’re OK with being a cheerleader during those times. I think what’s made it really easy for everybody is just the talent we have. Watching our teammates play is a pleasure to watch.”

Now it must pay off in the playoffs, starting in Game 2 against the Golden Knights.

“I think if you look at Vegas last year, I don’t think a team was deeper than them,” Seguin said. “Obviously, looking at their roster today, they’re deep again, but we have a lot more confidence in ourselves this year as far as what we think we can match up to.”