DALLAS -- The Stars have spent the past three weeks getting ready for the NHL season, going through drills, paring down rosters, working on chemistry.
The preparation to put this team together on paper has been both detailed and diligent.
And just like that, it all changed Thursday in the middle of a 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins.
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In a span of about an hour, Blake Comeau was hit in the face with a puck and fell awkwardly, Jason Dickinson was cross-checked and suffered an upper-body injury, and Roman Polak went face first into the boards and had to be stretchered off the ice and taken to the hospital. Updates after the game have Comeau out for at least two weeks with a lower-body injury, Dickinson out for at least one with an upper-body injury, and Polak looking at a possibly quicker return.
But that's all just first glance prognosis. These injuries could all be more extensive once they are reviewed on Friday, and the bottom line is that none of the three players will be available when the Stars play against the defending Stanley Cup champions Saturday in St. Louis.
It happens. That's hockey.
And, when you look back at Thursday's events, the Stars might be pretty good at adopting that philosophy. Comeau was playing on a structured line with Radek Faksa and Andrew Cogliano. Dickinson was playing on a structured line with Roope Hintz and Alexander Radulov. Any time you drop to five defensemen, the challenge is intense.
And yet the Stars handled it all very well. They actually were better as the game went on. Mattias Janmark moved up from the fourth line and took more responsibility. Faksa increased his time on ice and had seven shot attempts. Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn and John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen each absorbed the extra responsibility and increased his intensity.
Video: DAL Recap: Hintz scores in 2-1 loss vs. Bruins
That's what hockey players do.
"I thought everyone stepped up," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery. "Everyone got increased minutes, and I thought everybody did well with those minutes. That was the positive, we had a lot of people play well tonight."
The Boston Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final last year before losing in seven games to the Blues. They are one of the favorites to win it all this year. And yet for the last two thirds of that game, the Stars were better. Heck, Stars goalie Ben Bishop said he wanted both of the goals back that were scored on him in the first period. Had he just made the saves that he felt were possible, this might have been a scoreless game when all of the injuries hit.
"It was a tough start for me," Bishop said.
One of the goals came off the stick of former Stars player Brett Ritchie, who was making his debut with the Bruins. Allowed to walk as a free agent after last season, Ritchie signed with Boston and was playing for the first time in a uniform other than the Stars. He had logged 241 regular season games with Dallas, so beating Bishop 69 seconds into the game was a dagger for the fans who had just settled into their seats.
"I kind of lost it there, it just kind of surprised me real quick," Bishop said. "But it's a bad goal."
It was almost ironically perfect -- a weather forecast portending the dark clouds ahead.
Video: Montgomery gives update on Stars' injuries
After that, Danton Heinen lifted a shot past a Ritchie screen on the power play and Boston had a 2-0 lead just six minutes into the game.
But the strange thing about circumstances is sometimes bad can be good. Sometimes, being challenged can bring out the best in you.
Polak was trying to make a hit in the corner in his own end, when he missed his intended target and lunged forward. His head bent awkwardly and his neck went into the boards, so when he hit the ice, there was fear of possible spin damage.
The arena was chilling quiet as medical personnel carefully moved Polak into position on a backboard and lifted him onto a stretcher. As he was slowly rolled off the ice, there was a real concern that something was seriously wrong.
But instead of freezing, the Stars rallied. Roope Hintz raced up ice, taking a pass from Janmark and beating Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask to cut the Boston lead to 2-1. After that, the Stars were the aggressors and Rask had to save his team, stopping all 16 shots he faced in the third period.
A Dallas squad that was down three players actually got the better of the big, bad Bruins, and there is something reassuring about that.
"Emotion came into our game beginning in the second, and I think a lot of that was players rallying," Montgomery said. "Those three guys are key players that we all know go to war for us. I love the heart we played with, I love the emotion we played with, and, on most nights, we would have been successful with the way the game went and the opportunities we had."
Video: BOS@DAL: Hintz speeds past defense and scores
And while the players were still focused on the loss after the game, they knew they had done something good.
"We kind of found our game," Pavelski said. "I think at the end of the day, it was more compete than anything. We started winning a few more battles and we just started getting that puck past that extra layer and down in the zone, and we were able forecheck little -- turn a few over. …
"We lost some guys, everyone turned it up a little bit and played a little bit smarter and a more of a complete game, and that's why we had more success."
All of this doesn't get any easier.
The Stars are perilously close to the salary cap and now have to call up three players, potentially. Sure, Taylor Fedun can step in for Polak on defense, but you don't want to go on a three-game road trip with just six defensemen. Then, you have to call up two forwards just to get to 12. That means, you'll be playing games on Saturday in St. Louis and Sunday in Detroit with very little wiggle room.
"It's life in the NHL. Next man up," said Montgomery. "We went through it all last year, so we're a resilient group and a deep organization and we're going to be OK."
The Stars believe they have the best depth they have had in years, and now they will get to see some of those players we watched get plenty of ice time in the preseason. Now, all of that preparation and planning and mining for chemistry over the previous three weeks could actually pay off.
The Stars on Thursday were tested, and even though they didn't win, they definitely passed the test. They learned something about themselves, and also learned that this season is going to be a battle every single night.
"That's something that we're always going to do," Klingberg said when asked about showing resilience. "We expect that from ourselves."
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.