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Stars' victory over Hurricanes just how they drew it up

From start to finish, Dallas puts together a near-perfect performance in a dominant win against Carolina

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- That's how you draw it up.

Well, it's how the Stars have tried to draw it up -- and have failed to finish out on far too many nights.

Which tells you just how difficult it is to do what you are supposed to do.

In theory.

The Stars have talked so much about being a good possession team, about driving play in the offensive zone, about getting off to good starts and protecting leads. They have talked about creating a brand of winning hockey that is sustainable and follows the percentages.

A game like Tuesday's.

In a 4-1 win over Carolina at American Airlines Center, the Stars dominated play early, held on through a push from the Hurricanes and then used two power plays to score opportunistic goals to take a 3-1 lead after two periods. Jamie Benn added an "awarded goal" on an empty-net situation to get the sixth hat trick of his career and make it look all that much prettier.

Video: CAR@DAL: Bowness on Benn's effort in win over 'Canes

"That was one of our better games for 60 minutes for sure," said Dallas interim coach Rick Bowness. "I thought for the full 60 minutes the guys battled very hard and did all the little things necessary."

The Stars had a 36-25 advantage in shots on goal, a 64-52 edge in shot attempts, won 59 percent of their faceoffs and had a 23-13 advantage in hits. They played a near perfect game against a pretty good team -- and they did it after playing games that had all sorts of positives, but also a few negatives.

Dallas last Friday jumped out to a 2-0 advantage over Minnesota, only to lose 3-2 in the final minute of the game. It got behind 2-0 at St. Louis on Saturday, only to come back and win 3-2 in overtime. It rode the roller coaster the same way it has for much of the season.

And to be fair, it's been an exciting ride so far.

The Stars went through a recent stretch where they allowed the first goal in eight of nine games. They have come back to win when trailing after two periods on eight different occasions. They are 23rd in shots on goal at 30.6 and 19th in shots against at 31.6. They know how to win when they don't play their best. They know how to gather points when they are stuck in their own end. They know how to manage games.

And yet, they also know that's not always the best path. Bowness has said on several occasions his team wants to score first, it wants to protect leads, it wants to win the battle of the shot clock.

After giving up a 2-0 lead against the Wild, he said a big part of the problem was the team didn't capitalize enough on early chances. He pointed out that same flaw on Tuesday.

Video: CAR@DAL: Benn records sixth NHL hat trick

"We talked before the game about how we had a great first period against Minnesota regardless of what the score said," Bowness said. "Tonight was another example of where we easily could have had three or four goals in that first period. Their goalie made a lot of big saves, but that's how we want to come out of the gate and it's our home ice and we have to take advantage of it."

Since returning from the All-Star break, the Stars are 5-2-1. They have scored 26 goals in that span, an average of 3.25 goals per game. That's a big boost over the 2.6 goals the team is averaging on the season. Of course, in that span, Dallas has allowed 22 goals. That's an average of 2.75 goals, and that is higher than the 2.5 goals this team allows per game.

The point to all of this is the team is trying to score more, and in the process of trying to score more, it often is allowing more goals. Now, if the Stars can find a balance in that process, it will get better -- and that is the No. 1 goal of the coaching staff. Improve the weaknesses while maintaining the strengths, that's the plan.

So when Dallas got into revved-up games against the Maple Leafs or the Rangers, there was a subtle acknowledgement that this was part of the process. They lost 5-3 to Toronto and beat New York, 5-3, so live and learn, right?

But when the Stars took that 2-0 lead and blew it against the Wild, that was upsetting. And when they fought back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Blues, that was exciting. On Monday before, during and after practice, the coaches pushed for a little more calm, a little more focus, a little more matter-of-fact … and they got it.

"That's what the coaches are for," said captain Jamie Benn. "They're trying to give us the best game plan and the best ideas and tips for us to be successful. So, it's up to us to listen to that, execute it, and when you do, you're going to have games like tonight."

They'd love to have them more often, to be honest. And they believe it is definitely within their ability.

Video: CAR@DAL: Benn discusses sixth career hat trick

Benn scored a smart goal off a nice pass from Stephen Johns that was started off a strong backcheck from Jason Dickinson. Denis Gurianov scored a pretty power-play goal that was created in large part from a great shift by Corey Perry. And Benn scored his second power-play goal off a nice feed from Tyler Seguin that was started when Alexander Radulov and Radek Faksa forced a puck loose on the boards.

Joe Pavelski missed the game with an upper-body injury, so Mattias Janmark moved to center and was pretty solid during a rare appearance in the pivot. Andrej Sekera came off of two healthy scratches and logged a steady 15:34. Seguin saw his goal-less drought reach 17 games, but he had an assist, four shots on goal and won 78 percent of his faceoffs.

"Janmark won a lot of faceoffs tonight. He did a great job and Sekera hadn't played the last couple of games and he played a very solid game for us tonight," Bowness said. "We're sitting out competitive guys that want to play. Andrej is a true professional, he missed a couple of games and went in and played a great game for us. Janmark, tonight, we needed to play center and he did a great job for us. That's being good teammates."

The Stars have good depth, they want to roll four lines and rotate three pairs of defensemen. They want both goalies to be fresh and playing. They have a pretty big plan that requires a lot of things to fall right.

On night's like Tuesday, it seems pretty doable.

The trick is to do it more nights than not.

If they do, the drawing really will start to take shape.

Join the Stars for Hockey Is For Everyone Night when they return home to take on the Arizona Coyotes at American Airlines Center on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets now!

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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