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No Picasso? No problem as Stars learn how to win close games

Dallas is working to manage the intricacies and brushstrokes of what it takes to finish during crunch time

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Winning is an art.

An excruciating, inexorable, enigmatic art.

An art that can be exquisite -- when you finally understand it.

Right now, the Stars are somewhere between finger paintings and Francisco Goya, and the hope is they understand the difference.

"They're not all Picassos," said goalie Ben Bishop, who brushed his way to a shutout with 23 saves in a 1-0 victory over Boston on Friday. "But it's a character win, and we'll take it."

It's a cliché by now in the sports world to reference Picasso. If we really wanted to dig into the intricacy and beauty of classic art, we might refer to victories as no Michelangelo, or no da Vinci, or no Leutze. Or if you really want to get specific, you could say, "Well, that was no Ghent Altarpiece!"

I guess something would get lost in translation there.

But it's no mistake to compare the athlete to the artist. They both suffer, they both prepare, they both battle. And, in the end, they both entertain and enlighten us with their unique work.

But they both have to learn their craft.

Video: Montgomery thinks Faksa had his best game of the year

The Stars are trying to learn their own. Dallas entered the game 0-4-1 in games that were tied after two periods. They had been outscored in third periods 20-13. They had been outshot in third periods 195-135. They have been a team uncomfortable at the most intense times of a game -- and that's a little bit scary.

If you want to win in the NHL, you have to be able to find a calm place when the score is 0-0 in the third period. If you want to win in the NHL, you have to be excited about the prospect of playing in overtime.

We were talking in the press box as the third period wore down that this would have been a great playoff game. To know that one play could swing an entire series; to know that every shift was charged with intensity, with emotion, with consequence; to know that what you were watching really mattered -- well, that's the essence of sports. And for a team that has very little recent experience in that postseason area, Friday came pretty close.

As time was ticking down, Boston's David Pastrnak whipped a shot on goal that deflected off the skate of Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen just a couple of feet in front of Bishop. The big goalie tracked the puck, had perfect position, and deflected it safely away.

Had that shot slipped in with 29 seconds remaining, the Stars would have been crushed. Not only would they have lost in regulation, they would have spoiled a four-game homestand and headed off to play the next seven of eight games on the road with a heavy burden in their backpack. It would have been awful.

But just the opposite happened to a team that is now 10-7-2 and 7-3-1 at home.

Dallas finished off a great third period and headed off to 3-on-3 hockey with purpose, with swag, with "fiducia," as the Italian artists might say.

"Being on the right side of pucks, making the right decisions, the right reads -- I think with five minutes to go in the game -- I think we really beared down on our defensive play," said Jason Dickinson, who would eventually score the game-winner. "We weren't cheating for offense, which would be really easy in a game like this, because you think, 'Maybe I'll be the guy to score.'"

Once the game hit overtime, though, the Stars adopted a killer instinct. Dallas pounded six shots on goal against Tuukka Rask, while Bishop saw none. It was a bounce that decided the game, but a bounce the Stars forced.

Video: BOS@DAL: Dickinson cashes in on loose puck for OT win

Mattias Janmark grabbed the puck in his own end and blasted up the left wing. He fired a shot on goal, got to his own rebound, and then watched as Dickinson finally chipped the puck in on the second rebound. It was a beautiful, hard-working display of just what it takes to win games like this.

"I really liked the way Janmark played tonight. His second and third effort gave our bench momentum, and I think it gave him confidence," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery. "To see him crank that slap shot … he was looking to score, he wasn't thinking pass. The thing that I really liked was he followed up on that shot, he whacked at it, and that's what ultimately created that goal."

And Dickinson was right there, too, understanding just how to breathe in a breathless environment, trusting that they had played the game the right way and earned the right to take two points. He said he knows the team has to be better in third periods and overtime, and this was a start.

"It's important for us to right that ship, because you need to be able to close out games, you need to be able to play in tight games going down the stretch because the league gets harder every month," Dickinson said. "If we can hang in there now, we'll be able to teach ourselves to do that later in the year when it really comes down to crunch time."

Fans can allow a little dreaming after games like this. In theory, the injured defensemen should get healthy, and the team will be better in a couple of months. In theory, Martin Hanzal will be ready to play in December and offer more depth to the forward group. In theory, the power play will score another goal at some point during the season.

Point is, the team has the ability to get better with a new coaching staff trying to implement new ideas to players who are starting to understand exactly what's required from this artistic process.

The guess is the paintings from the second semester will be a lot nicer.

Maybe even a Picasso or two.

Or at the very least, a Brothers van Eyck.

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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