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Stars are turning doubters into believers with every passing game

After two key road games against Florida and Tampa Bay, Dallas has a chance to make serious headway in the standings before the month ends

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

I was experiencing a bit of dread on Wednesday.

It wasn't quite trepidation, but it also seemed stronger than ennui. It seems to be the way of fans these days.

The Stars took a 1-0 lead in the first minute of a game against the Seattle Kraken and all seemed right with the world. But then Seattle tied things up seven minutes later, and I just started to feel like this was going to be one of those nights. Not to discount the expansion Kraken, but the Stars didn't need to lose that game.

Dallas has struggled on the road, and it has six of the next seven away from home. It has struggled with closing out games recently when the opposition pulls the goalie. It was without three players who were in COVID protocol. The stage was set for disappointment.

So when Seattle cut the deficit to 3-2 in the second period, you get a little antsy, you start to think the worst, and when the Kraken get a power play and a chance to tie, you do feel the dark ghost of dread touching the back of your neck.

Well, Joe Pavelski rode to the rescue with a late goal and a 4-2 lead. He then added to that with an assist on an empty-net goal for a historic five-point night.

And you feel a little like a schmuck.

But the experience does tell you a little something about where the Stars are right now. This team is on the outside looking in right now, and that's not what fans anticipated before the start of the season. They were getting two healthy superstars back in Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. They were getting a top line that seemed to be among the best in hockey. They added Ryan Suter and Jani Hakanpaa to a defense that already had a solid top three in Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg and Esa Lindell.

And sure, the goaltending was a bit cumbersome, but you figured they would make something work out of the four bodies that were in camp.

And they have, so far.

That's what gives you optimism, that's what helps battle back the negative feelings.

Dallas is 18-13-2 and moving in the right direction. It's 5-1-0 in its past six games and seems to be handling every curveball sent its way. Shut down for 17 days? No problem. Face three of the best teams in the league when you return? All good. Use your anger from a frustrating loss to get back in the saddle? Check and check.

What the Stars have done recently is impressive. Beating good teams in Florida and Pittsburgh are feathers that need to be appreciated. Playing a really solid road game in St. Louis and almost winning needs to be acknowledged. Coming back and using that anger against the Kraken should be saluted.

This is the NHL and no victory can be overlooked, so for the Stars to dig in and beat Seattle is impressive. Yes, they rode one line offensively, but they played well as a team defensively and that line came up with some really key plays at gut check time. That's a great sign.

But the experience also is a great reminder of how tough this road can be. The Stars have two incredibly excruciating road tests at Florida and Tampa Bay. They follow that with an East Coast swing through Buffalo, Detroit, Philadelphia and New Jersey (all winnable games). Then, back home for some more home cooking, and then the expected rescheduling of the six postponed games (all against Central Division opponents).

That's a lot to wrap your head around, especially if you're just a little bit of a worrier.

But coach Rick Bowness had a great off-the-cuff comment the other day. He said that as he was walked out the door, he told his wife Judy that he was looking forward to the uncertainty of the day.

"Something always happens," he said.

When he got to the rink, Radulov was added to Denis Gurianov and Braden Holtby in COVID protocol. On Thursday, assistant coach John Stevens was put in the protocol.

Bowness has been dealing with this since the '80s, and he said that despite all the new challenges, the philosophy is the same: be ready for anything.

Sometimes, it's good to feel the doubt. Sometimes, you have to push through and believe. For each of us, this season has a long way to go and a lot of twists and turns ahead. While we're probably programmed to panic a little more easily these days, a night like Wednesday can be good for you.

Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride, things could be a lot different tomorrow.

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.

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