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The marathon that is the 2020-21 season for Dallas culminates Monday

From COVID postponements and historic weather delays to countless injuries and a compacted schedule, the Stars have given it everything they have

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer
Stars (22-19-14, 58 points) vs. Blackhawks (24-25-6, 54 points)

Time/Location: 7 p.m. CT/United Center - Chicago, Illinois

TV: Bally Sports Southwest Plus

Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM

 

Roope Hintz won't be on the ice Monday when the Stars finish the 2020-21 season, but he will definitely embody the spirit of the injury-plagued campaign.

Hintz was nominated by the Dallas Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association as the team's Masterton Trophy nominee for this season. The 24-year-old center has been battling through lower-body pain throughout the season, but has still found a way to tally a career-best 43 points (15 goals, 28 assists) in 41 games.

For those inside the room, it was a heroic performance.

"In a normal season, he probably wouldn't be playing," Stars coach Rick Bowness said of the fact Hintz would've had surgical repair at the beginning of the season, rehabbed, and then come back for the end. "We would've been able to get it fixed, but we haven't because of the shortened season."

Bowness says Hintz and the team made the decision to battle through the pain so he could play this year and help the Stars make a run at the playoffs. Dallas already was missing Tyler Seguin, so Hintz stepped up.

"It's an amazing story," Bowness said. "It's what the Dallas Stars are all about. We play hard, we play for each other, we play for the team. We're a family here. We're all trying to help each other out. That shows his commitment to the family."

Video: The Franchise: Hintz's rise to blossoming NHL stardom

Once the Stars were eliminated from the playoffs, they made the decision to shut Hintz down for the final two games. He'll have surgery and is expected to come back fully healthy next season. Hintz suffered the injury in the Stanley Cup Final and missed the last two games of the series against Tampa Bay. He went back to Finland in hopes that time and rest would help heal things up. Hintz decided to push through it in training camp, and he's been battling the injury on a daily basis ever since.

"I've been doing treatments every day," Hintz said. "I haven't really been on the ice when we've had practices. I usually go do the game-day morning skate and then play, but never on the ice when we had a practice day."

Hintz said he's been able to manage the pain, and that's why he played through it. In doing so, he's been one of the team's best players.

Video: TBL@DAL: Hintz buries a breakaway to grab the lead

"He's made so many leaps and bounds since he first came into Dallas, and now he's one of the most underrated players in the NHL," forward Blake Comeau said earlier in the season. "The way that he skates, his big body, he can shoot, he's got great vision, great IQ, he's very responsible defensively. When he's out of the lineup, it's a huge loss for us. When he's in the lineup, it makes us a better team."

 

What to watch

Jake Oettinger is expected to start the last game of the season. The 22-year-old, drafted 27th overall in 2017, had to step in this season because of offseason surgery for Ben Bishop and has delivered a tremendous rookie campaign. He's been fantastic with a 10-8-7 record, and ranks third among qualifying rookie goalies in goals-against average at 2.30 and fourth in save percentage at .914.

The Lakeville, Minnesota native is coming off a 6-2 loss at Tampa Bay where he allowed four goals on 18 shots, but he had a .930 save percentage over his previous 10 appearances and has improved as the season has gone on.

Video: TBL@DAL: Oettinger robs Palat in front with paddle

"Jake is a tremendous competitor, he's a tremendous worker," Bowness said. "Jake is a young guy, and we all know he could've spent this year in Austin [with Dallas' AHL affiliate], but that didn't happen. What he's done is he's proven to himself, and just as important to his teammates, that this is the league he belongs in right now."

 

Lineup updates

Because the Stars are resting Hintz and Seguin for the final two games, they inserted Mark Pysyk and Rhett Gardner into the lineup Sunday against Chicago. Pysyk played 12:45 and scored a goal, while Gardner registered 12:44 time on ice and had five hits. Both could draw back in tonight.

Video: DAL@CHI: Pysyk scores after Stars' strong forecheck

As usual, there will be many game-time decisions.

 

Numbers
17th

The Stars currently rank 17th in the standings with 58 points in 55 games. They still could be passed in the standings by Montreal and Philadelphia.

 

15th

The Stars rank 15th in save percentage at .909. They were second last season (.921) and second the season before (.923). Bishop has been out all season after undergoing knee surgery in October.

 

9th

The Stars are ninth in times shorthanded this season with 149. They were 23rd last season, so that's a significant improvement.

 

He said it

"You see fatigue, you see the facial expressions. You can see it and you can feel it. We see it and we feel it every day. And I tell you, I hope I never have to go through anything like this again." -- Stars coach Rick Bowness on the grueling schedule caused by eight postponed games that had to be condensed into the end of the season

 

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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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