DALLAS -- Who's going to win the Stanley Cup?
No wait, that's a trick question. You really couldn't narrow it down to less than 15 or 20 teams right now. That point was clear Saturday night, as the Stars had to push and pull and jimmy a 3-2 shootout win from the Colorado Avalanche at American Airlines Center.
It will probably be clear on Sunday when the team has to play the second half of a back-to-back in Arizona. It will be probably be clear when the eyes of the nation are on the Cotton Bowl at the Winter Classic New Year's Day.
This is what the NHL is right now, and that can actually be kind of fun.
[WATCH: All highlights from Stars' shootout win over Avalanche]
"I mean, it was huge," said defenseman John Klingberg of the victory against a Colorado team that sits in second place in the Central Divisions. "It's great to get away with a win, two points here. They got one. It's a division game, so every point matters. We're trying to chase them down.
"The good thing about this is that we still have ways to improve."
The Stars stumbled into the Christmas break on a 1-3-0 run where they were not good in any of those games. Goalie Ben Bishop was allowing four goals per game with a save percentage below .900 in his slumnp. The reshuffled coaching staff was struggling to push the right buttons and find the right combinations.
Video: COL@DAL: Bowness credits 'dangerous' Avs after win
And so going away was probably a good thing.
"The break came at a good time for everyone, coaches included," said Stars interim coach Rick Bowness. "Everyone took advantage of it. Getting away for a couple of days … then when you come back with a rested clean mind and you look at this a little bit differently. The break came at a good time, and we sorted some things out and now we move on."
Dallas worked through a wonky first day of practice Friday, and Bowness even said Saturday's morning skate was rough. There was a real curiosity about what might happen in the first period. So when the Stars came out and played very well, taking a 1-0 lead just 1:08 into the game, there was much rejoicing.
But just like that, Colorado came back with a hard-working goal from J.T. Compher at the 18:58 mark and started looking like a team that shook off the rush the night before in a 6-4 loss to Minnesota at home. The second period followed that trend, as the Avalanche outshot the Stars 19-11, scored the go-ahead goal and looked like they were going to leave Stars players asking a lot of the same questions over and over again when the night was through.
But a hustling Stars team forced a delay-of-game penalty from Cale Makar late in the second period, and then cashed in early in the third to kinda sorta change the entire game.
Klingberg made a nice feed to Denis Gurianov, and the rookie potted his ninth goal of the season. It was a key play for Gurianov, because it shows the confidence he's gaining, and also shows the confidence the coaching staff is showing in him.
It also shows the versatility of this team.
Video: COL@DAL: Pavelski, Radulov score in shootout
Gurianov made some big plays 15:02 of ice time. Tyler Seguin played 21:53, had 10 shots on goal and scored his fifth goal in the past five games. Alexander Radulov set up the first goal to Seguin and then scored in the shootout. John Klingberg had two assists and did a lot of smart little things, like drawing a penalty in overtime. And Joe Pavelski was marvelous in consistently making detail plays, like helping stop a 5-on-3 by drawing a penalty, and also scoring in the shootout.
"Yeah, those little plays throughout the night. Faksa did a great job starting that," Pavelski said of a key kill in which he drew a penalty. "You get that big kill and keep it a one goal game and were right there. It was not the turning point, but it kept us in the game and gave us some momentum.
"It was good to see. Plays like that allow you to get those two points."
And the two points were huge. The Stars move to 21-14-4, good for 46 points. Colorado is at 23-12-4 (50 points). Teams out of the playoff spot are just a few points back, and we're not even to the midway point of the season. That's a sobering thought.
Bishop regained control of his game and made some important saves. He said the break was a great chance to reset.
"I got to go home and enjoy family and whatnot, and then when you come back, it's almost like you go back to the basics, you kind of hit the reset button as far as keeping it simple," he said.
"For me, in practice yesterday, it was kind of one of those things where it just kind of clicked and I was like, alright I feel good, and like I said, glad it carried over today."
Video: COL@DAL: Bishop comes up clutch for Stars in shootout
He wasn't the only one. While Bishop made a season-high 41 saves, he said he felt the team in front of him played well and showed it can respond to the pushback of a talented opponent. The Avalanche entered the game leading the NHL in scoring at 3.61 goals per game.
"I thought we played a good game," said Bishop. "You're going to have to play tight games all season. Obviously a very good team over there, so it's a big win for us. You're going to have to find different ways to win every night."
Because there really are 15 or 20 teams out there that think they can win the Cup this year.
And right now, they might not be wrong.
Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Detroit Red Wings at American Airlines Center on Friday, Jan. 3 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.