Jake Oettinger has been a revelation this season.
When it was announced that Ben Bishop would have off-season knee surgery and miss most of the 2020-21 campaign, there was some trepidation about Oettinger's ability to step up.
Sure, Anton Khudobin had just carried the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final, but he couldn't do that again in a compressed schedule. So Oettinger had to handle the pressure.
He's done so, and more -- and Saturday was the best display of his steely calm.
Oettinger was told in the morning that Khudobin had tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed in the NHL's COVID protocol. Oettinger said he simply followed the same routine he uses every day, and that helped him in a 3-2 win over Carolina in which he made a career-best 41 saves.
Video: Oettinger shines in unexpected start against Carolina
"I'm just trying to make the most of every start I get," Oettinger said. "For me, I think I prepare the same way whether I'm backing up or starting, because you never know what could happen. That's why I do the same thing every day. Thankfully, I felt prepared tonight."
His performance impressed his teammates and coaching staff.
"I think he's just growing into a really good starter in the league," said veteran forward Andrew Cogliano. "It's pretty impressive, because he's been tossed into the fire a little bit at times. But it seems when there are opportunities for him to step up or a call when it's late and he's not expecting it, it seems like he always rises to the challenge. I think that speaks to his preparation, I've noticed that from the beginning of the year that he really prepares well.
"He's a really good professional at a young age, and when you're like that, usually good things happen."
Stars coach Rick Bowness said when he told Oettinger he would be the starter, the 22-year-old was calm and ready to go.
"It's maturity," Bowness said. "He loves to play, but it's his maturity. No matter what you throw at him, and it's his love of the game and his compete too, but you throw that at him…`You're playing'…and he's `OK.' There was no surprise. It's his maturity. And it shows on the ice. He's mature beyond in his years. But when you're that confident in your abilities, you want to play. Nothing is going to rattle him at this point."
Oettinger said facing that many shots was actually a good thing. He said facing a team like Carolina (that was 11-1-3 at home) helps get his adrenalin and compete level going.
Video: Razor: 'Next man up' Oettinger leads Stars' victory
"Yeah, 100 percent," he said. "I love making saves. It's just fun when they're coming at you and you're playing against some of the best players in the world, so to just go out there and compete, it's super fun."
Oettinger said he also appreciated the work of his teammates. Carolina has the best power play in the league, but received only one man advantage in the game. They had just one shot on goal in that power play.
"The guys did such a great job in front of me tonight," Oettinger said. "I can't say enough good things about only taking one penalty against a power play like that and then shutting it down in the last few minutes. It's just a testament to all of our guys playing the right way and playing to win."
Now, Oettinger will get starts on back-to-back nights, and the Stars are fully confident in his ability to handle that challenge.
"We know he can handle the workload. And with Dobby's situation, it's not like we have another choice," Bowness said. "He's young, he's got lots of energy and he's played back-to-back before."
Speaking of stepping up ...
Dallas has had to shuffle lineups every game, which is one reason it has been hard to string together wins. The Stars are missing Tyler Seguin (hip), Bishop (knee), Alexander Radulov (lower body), Joel Kiviranta (lower body) and have had to deal with Roope Hintz coming in and out of the lineup with a nagging lower-body injury.
Jason Dickinson also left Saturday's game with a lower-body injury.
That said, the Stars have put themselves in a position where they have to win games if they want to make the playoffs.
Video: DAL@CAR: Kero buries feed from Robertson
Tanner Kero scored the game-winning goal Saturday, while Justin Dowling, Rhett Gardner and Ty Dellandrea also contributed. The NHL has allowed a six-man taxi squad this year because of COVID, so players have been jumping back and forth and have to stay prepared at all times.
"It's awesome," Oettinger said.
"All of those guys that have been in and out of the taxi squad, they come to work every day. It's not an easy job, to see them get rewarded is huge. I couldn't be happier for (Kero). All of those guys who have filled in for injuries have done such a great job, and it's really nice to see them get rewarded."
Khudobin remains in COVID protocol; Dickinson, Hanley out
Oettinger will be in net.
Radulov, Seguin and Bishop are skating at Comerica Center in Frisco, but not yet available. Bowness said he believes Kiviranta still is in a walking boot. Joel Hanley and Dickinson are on the trip but have suffered recent injuries and will be out tonight.
The Stars are still waiting to see if Khudobin had a false positive on his COVID test.
Bowness said there could be a few lineup changes.
By the numbers
The Hurricanes, who lead the NHL in faceoff winning percentage, won 60 percent of the draws on Saturday. Jordan Staal went 21-9 in the circle.
Jason Robertson has scored at least a point in nine of the past 11 games. He has four goals and seven assists for 11 points in that span.
Miro Heiskanen played 27:06 on Saturday, the fifth most he has played in a game this season.
He said it
"We do that quite a bit where we drive off the wall and try to get to the net. I've done that a hundred times this year, so it was nice to tip one in this time around. It was a big goal for the team to get us a good start, and that's what we need against good teams in tough buildings where they play really well and they start games fast. We need to have good opportunities early to establish our game." -- Cogliano on tipping in a goal. Dallas is second in the NHL in goals scored by tip at 18.
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.