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Burnside: Five takeaways from Stars' fourth straight win

The Stars had to hold on late, but Saturday's 4-3 victory over Carolina was still impressive before the long road trip

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

The Dallas Stars chalked up their fourth straight win Saturday night, holding off a determined Carolina Hurricanes team 4-3 to move their season record to 5-3-0. They are now 4-1 at home and will now embark on a five-game road trip that will keep them away from home for almost two weeks.

Here are some thoughts on a high-energy, entertaining game at the American Airlines Center that very nearly got away from the home side.

Video: CAR@DAL: Pitlick jams home one-timer in close

 

1. One game, two stories

When Tyler Pitlick scored his second goal of the game off a terrific feed from Antoine Roussel at 7:46 of the second period to make the score 4-0, we were thinking of words like "rout" or "romp" or "juggernaut" (okay, maybe not juggernaut). But you get the point.

And, really, until there were exactly 9.9 seconds left in the second, we might have trotted out "flawless" or "magnificent." 

Head coach Ken Hitchcock did.

"We were playing unbelievable," Hitchcock said. "We played for two periods, until the last nine seconds, exactly how you have to play to beat them. We deserved everything we got. That's the best we've played at home all year."

But then Jeff Skinner put home his own rebound to make it 4-1. And 5:32 into the third period, Skinner scored again after some disorganized play around the Stars net, and suddenly it was white-knuckle time.

"Now, they're within arm's length," Hitchcock said. "Now, it's coming. Now, we're starting to defend backing up, and you can't play in the league like that -- can't defend skating backwards or trying to counterattack. So we got ourselves on our heels after the second goal."

In the end, Jordan Staal made it 4-3 with 4:36 left and the Stars were forced to kill off a late delay-of-game penalty, but ultimately ended up with two points, which is the whole point of the exercise.

Still. Did we mention two games within one?

Video: CAR@DAL: Seguin nets wrister top shelf by Darling

 

2. Lesson learned No. 1

Once again, the Stars lineup was bookended with great play from the top line of Jamie Benn -- who scored the opening goal for the Stars for the second straight game and now has four on the year -- Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, and the team's fourth line (see below).

But the in-between parts of the lineup? Not so much.

The trio of Mattias Janmark -- moved to center -- Jason Spezza and Devin Shore had two shots on goal, even though we thought Spezza had his best game of the season. Martin Hanzal, Remi Elie and Brett Ritchie, while showing some flashes -- and with Ritchie playing his best game of the season -- had four shots on net, three by Hanzal, who has yet to score other than into an empty net.

"The only lesson for me right now, to be honest with you, is we're winning games and we don't have everybody going," Hitchcock said. "We're going to need more participants. We've got significant people going, but we don't have enough people going. So ,,, if we expect to win on the road, we're going to need way more participants in our game. And we're going to be able to chat with those guys in the next 48 hours and, hopefully, get more participants in the way we need to play."

Video: Hitchcock on win over Canes

 

3. Lesson learned No. 2

Maybe it's not a lesson for Hitchcock, and maybe it's more of an undeniable truth than a lesson, but Ben Bishop is pretty darned good at playing goal.

For the second game in a row, Bishop had to face an urgent, desperate team and come up with clutch saves at crucial times. He made 36 saves, including stops on 12 of 14 Carolina shots in the third period, to preserve the win.

Imagine the mental kick this game would have presented, if the 'Canes had tied as they threatened to do several times in the waning moments of the game. Bishop makes this theorizing a moot point. He's now 5-1-0 on the season with a .928 save percentage and is a perfect 4-0-0 at home.

Hey, that's why they signed him to a six-year deal in the off-season. But he's been more than as advertised as he continues to relieve pressure with his elite puck handling, and he's proved to be a very vocal presence on the back end.

"He's a real competitor, and the thing that people probably don't know is just how much he talks," said veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis. "He talks a ton out there helping the D-men. He's another set of eyes and a mouth that's letting us know what to do -- and then, of course, his ability to play the puck, it's like having a sixth player out there at times so he's been huge for us. He's held us in when we needed it."

Hitchcock loves that he's demanding of both himself and his teammates.

"And that's a really good thing for us," Hitchcock said. "That's one thing we need more of. He's really demanding of himself. He's very professional and articulate in his approach and, boy, is he demanding that we start doing things the right way. And he will not be a happy guy today."

Video: CAR@DAL: Pitlick capitalizes on second chance

 

4. Fourth line shining bright

We generally refer to the line of Radek Faksa -- currently riding a three-game point streak after notching two assists on Saturday -- Antoine Roussel and Pitlick as the fourth line because, well, that's sort of what they are.

A good, hard-working energy line that every successful team needs to be, you know, successful. But during this winning streak, that line has been more than useful or hard-working -- they have helped provide crucial offense that has made the winning streak possible.

The line scored the second and fourth goals Saturday night and have become players about whom the coaching staff do not need to worry, but simply need to send them over the boards to get the expected results.

"We don't do a whole lot special," said Pitlick, who was signed as an under-the-radar free agent in the summer and, who on this night, was holding a Roman-style metal helmet as a postgame honor presented by the team.

"We just play the game hard," he added. "We get the puck in deep and get physical and just grind it out down low and we're starting to make more plays, and we're starting to get rewarded for our hard work."

Hitchcock called them the best forward line of any that went on the ice for either team Saturday.

He's not wrong.

"They're playing right at the top of their game right now," Hitchcock said. "It's really good to see. They got three guys working together. Three guys really pushing each other. Three guys that the coaching staff really relies on and depends on. And has a lot of confidence in. It's a good sign."

Video: Hamhuis reacts to win over Carolina

 

5. A couple final thoughts

At some point, we're going to stop referencing last season. But not Saturday, because last year's team failed to win four straight games at any point in their miserable campaign.

The fact the current season is not yet 10 games old, and the Stars have managed to put together that kind of string, should be a harbinger of better days, even if Carolina did make things interesting.

"We're building our belief as a team and building our belief in winning," said Hamhuis, who had an assist on the Stars' second goal and has played his best hockey of the season the past week.

And heading into what promises to be a taxing road trip, putting some points in your pocket is never a bad thing.

"You want to take advantage of your home games and we did a good job of that this week," Hamhuis said, referencing wins over Colorado, Arizona and Carolina. "We're going onto a tough road trip -- tough teams, lots of travel, and it's nice going in with a few wins under our belt."

And, finally, one might be discouraged had the Stars been the only team to nearly blow a four-goal lead in the NHL. In some ways, the way the 'Canes -- coming off a tough four-game road trip of their own and are now 3-2-1 on the season -- kept pushing back is the norm, not the exception.

"I think that's the league over the last probably four or five years now," Hamhuis said. "I think it's been like that where no lead's ever safe. It was great that we were able to hang onto that, and I think there's probably a lot of lessons we can learn from that. But it's not nice to learn lessons on-the-fly, and while you're winning."

It's a straight-ahead league, and the minute you decide to go a different direction -- maybe sideways or, even worse, backwards -- well, bad things are going to happen.

"Nothing's safe right now in the league," Hitchcock said. "And nothing's safe when you back up. You can't back up. You can't defend backing up, and we got backing up."

That's not such a bad thing, is it?

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.

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