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As Stars ride this run, they're doing so with confidence, work - and luck

From standouts to role players, Dallas has gotten good results up and down its roster in the postseason

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

I come from a large family, so it's not uncommon to have 10 or 12 people around the card table on a Saturday night.

In instances like this, we'll often choose a round of "Screw Your Neighbor," because it allows you to get everyone involved. The game deals one card to each player and then that player decides if he wants to keep the card or pass it on to his neighbor. Under our rules, you want to avoid high cards, keep low cards and hope for a king (which means you're safe). You have three quarters in front of you, and you get to go on one mulligan of "grace" to stay in the game once you are out of quarters.

It seems simple enough, but it's amazing the drama that can unfold. Do you stay on a 10 early in the round? Do you stay on a 7 late in the round? There is plenty of skill involved, but it usually comes down to luck in the end. I can't tell you how many times when you have the last two players that a person is forced to go to the dealer and pulls out a two or three. We've had it at times where the first person has a three, the second person has a queen and goes to the deck, and then pulls out a two.

It's great fun, and it often reminds me of sports.

Yes, you are making incredible mental decisions and trying your best to put every aspect of chance in your favor, but sometimes it all comes down to the dealer. A puck deflects in off a defenseman? You drew the right card. A shot hits a post or somehow gets trapped under a goalie's pad? Here's a queen for ya while your neighbor flips a king to freeze you out.

The playoffs have been like that for the Stars.

Yes, they have played hard and been resilient, but they've also found a spot of luck here and there. Denis Gurianov's first goal in Game 6 against Calgary almost hit Joe Pavelski in the head. His second was a deflection that may or may not have been off of his skate. That powered a comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the Flames. Alexander Radulov had a puck hit off his collarbone and bounce in against Colorado, allowing the Stars to overcome a 2-0 deficit en route to a 5-2 win. On Saturday, Joe Pavelski flipped a backhanded shot on net, but it deflected off the stick of Nate Schmidt and over Robin Lehner, who has had a wonderful season in net and probably would have stopped any other shot coming at him.

Video: Bowness on Khudobin: 'He's a battler till the end'

"I think they scored on their seventh shot, halfway through the game," Vegas coach Pete DeBoer said of his team's frustration. "Their best player, Joe Pavelski, takes a backhand, it rolls up the shaft of our stick and over our goalie's shoulder. We haven't got any of those. We have to stick with it until we do."

The breaks even out, that's what they always say. Of course, they also say the harder you work, the luckier you get. And that's what the Stars are doing.

Andrew Cogliano tipped the puck away from Schmidt to get it to Pavelski on that play. He started the chaos, and the Stars made the most out of it. That's right, the same Andrew Cogliano who had been a healthy scratch for three games and patiently waited his turn to come back into the lineup. The same Andrew Cogliano who didn't have a point in his first 15 playoff games. That guy worked off the ice so that he could eventually help his team on the ice.

"Get myself ready, stay ready, and when you're called upon go help the team as much as you can," Cogliano said when asked what he did as a healthy scratch. "That was the mindset, and that's what I tried to do."

Just like Joel Kiviranta did the same thing as a "Black Ace." He was inserted into Game 7 against Colorado and tallied a hat trick, including the game-winner in overtime.

Just like Andrej Sekera has done in coming back from healthy scratches during the regular season. The 34-year-old defenseman has had to take on a lot more responsibility with an injury to Stephen Johns and has turned himself into one of the team's best penalty killers. On Saturday, he played about half of the final six minutes while helping the team hold onto a 2-1 lead.

"Andrej has played great hockey for us all year," Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said. "When his heart is in the right place, and he's battling as hard as he does every night, you know the rest is going to come. Sometimes, you just have to give a player a little time to find his game."

Video: Benn, Pavelski react to Stars' Game 4 win over Vegas

The Stars have done that with role players and stars alike. They have been patient with Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. They have been patient with Mattias Janmark and Jason Dickinson. They have been patient with Sekera and Taylor Fedun and Joel Hanley.

And because of that, they are getting some breaks.

Sekera set up Kiviranta for the game-winner in Game 7 against Colorado. Radulov has scored several big goals, both with skill and a little luck. Pavelski knocked in what proved to be a huge goal against the Golden Knights to give the Stars a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

As the Stars are riding this good run, they are playing with confidence and calm. As Vegas faces elimination, you can sense frustration.

"There's a sense of urgency right now, where we are in the series," said Vegas forward Reilly Smith. "We have to stay positive. The more you get down on yourself, the more you kind of push yourself in the opposite direction. It seems like the puck is bouncing every way but in their net. We just have to find a way to change that."

Having played countless games of "Screw Your Neighbor," I know that fate can be pretty fickle and that the cards can change at any given moment. I also know that if you make the right decisions, you can end up pretty "lucky" for a long time.

Right now, the Stars seem to be working hard enough to make the hockey gods happy.

 

Game 5: Stars vs. Golden Knights (Dallas leads 3-1)

Monday, 7 p.m. CT

Where: Rogers Place, Edmonton

TV: NBCSN

Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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