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To be continued? Stars, Avalanche rivalry could be far from over

Dallas sweeps the regular season series with another comeback win in OT, but an April playoff rematch may lie ahead

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DENVER -- Talk about your cliff-hangers.

The Stars and Colorado Avalanche are on a potential collision course to meet in the first round of the playoffs, so Tuesday's game at Pepsi Center was a pretty important meeting between the two teams.

 

[WATCH: All highlights from Stars vs. Avalanche]

 

And just like a season finale of a television series, this one left you in rapt anticipation for the next episode. Dallas got down 2-0 in the first period and then rallied for a 3-2 win in overtime to sweep the four-game season series.

Dallas is second in the Central Division at 27-15-4 (58 points), while Colorado is third at 25-15-6 (56 points). The Stars have shown that they can compete very closely with one of the best offensive teams in the NHL, and if the two do meet in the first round of the playoffs, Dallas will certainly have some confidence.

Video: DAL@COL: Lindell wins it in overtime for Stars

"We knew it was going to be the last time we were going to see them before the playoffs, if that's what happens, so we had to give it our best," said Stars coach Rick Bowness.

But just as important as the outcome of the game, it was the process that really lived up to the hype. Both teams saw this as a statement game, and both teams had their say at one point or another.

Colorado dominated the first period and came away with a 2-0 lead. The Avalanche used their top line to create several scoring chances and Nathan MacKinnon came away with two assists. Both goals were deflected in (one accidentally by Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen) and that seemed the only way to beat Ben Bishop on this night.

Bishop finished with 41 saves and cemented his place among the mid-season Vezina candidates. He is a huge part of the Stars having the lowest GAA and highest save percentage in the league, and he will be a huge part of a potential showdown with the Avalanche, who average 3.57 goals per game.

Video: DAL@COL: Bowness discusses Stars' comeback, OT win

The Stars can be an incredibly inconsistent team when it comes to slow starts and attack zone time, so when a goalie can keep the game within one or two goals, it makes a huge difference. It allows the Stars to stay engaged, it allows the coaches to continue to trust the entire lineup, it allows for one of those third-period comebacks the Stars are getting known for.

"We started to skate, we started to compete. That's the best period they've thrown at us all year. We didn't have it, it's as simple as that," Bowness said. "We were a step behind and we were an emotional level behind. Bish did his job. But we did respond, and that's the sign of a really good hockey team."

 

[PODCAST: Razor, Heika discuss whether Stars and Avalanche are on postseason collision course]

 

This was a game that was much closer than the shot totals. Dallas showed some physicality. Jamie Benn first faked a fight and then got into a fight with Matt Calvert. When Avalanche fans booed him while he sat in the penalty box, Benn cupped his hand to his ear and asked for more.

This was a game where both teams got out of their comfort zones and got physical. This was a game where the Avalanche had a few shots go off the pipe behind Bishop, and where the Stars were about an inch from a huge turnaround.

Video: DAL@COL: Dickinson buries rebound to tie the game

Dallas scored on the power play in the second period on a gorgeous pass from Tyler Seguin to Alexander Radulov, but Colorado challenged the call for offside. If the Avalanche were right, they would maintain their 2-0 lead. If they were wrong, Dallas would draw to within 2-1 and would go right back on the power play.

Replays showed that Benn had his back skate about an inch off the ice. It was a fortunate occurrence for the Avalanche. It was the kind of call in the playoffs that would have talking heads chattering for days. It was the kind of play that could dishearten an opponent who was struggling to keep up.

"When that stuff happens, we tell the bench whatever happens, we'll live with it," Bowness said. "We deal with it before the decision is made, and that's what we did. It's the right call, the foot is in the air, and you have to live with it, and you can't let it rattle you. We didn't."

Instead, the Stars came right back and scored another power-play goal. This time, Roope Hintz found Denis Gurianov, and Gurianov potted his 11th goal of the season.

Video: DAL@COL: Bishop on 41-save effort in Stars' OT win

That was enough to give the Stars hope, and they built on it.

Sure, Bishop was the hands down sole reason the Stars were in the game, but his teammates made his effort mean something. Radek Faksa missed the game with an upper-body injury, so Jason Dickinson was moved up to the checking line. He finished with six shots on goal and tied the game at 2-2 with 5:23 left in the third period. Even with the fight, Benn played 16:53 and had four hits. And rookie Joel Kiviranta logged 12:51 in time on ice and was credited with eight hits.

 

[PHOTOS: Best shots from Stars' overtime win over Avalanche]

 

In overtime, Dallas had a 2-0 advantage in shots on goal and Esa Lindell won the game with his first shot of the game in a team-high 26:10 in ice time. The Stars now have won eight games when trailing after two periods, best in the NHL, and have outscored the opposition 19-2 after the first intermission in the past eight games.

Dickinson said the team doesn't want to keep getting behind, but they also are happy they keep coming back.

Video: DAL@COL: Gurianov sends shot off Grubauer's arm

"It's a good stat and a bad stat, but we've got to be proud of this group that we're able to do that," Dickinson said. "We're not fazed by going into the third period down a goal, and we're going to stick to the game plan and not start making `hope' plays, because we know we have a group in here who can make something happen."

That's a good feeling, especially against a talented team like Colorado. So Rick Bowness, would you look forward to a rematch with the Avalanche in April?

"Well, we've got to get to April," Bowness said. "This is a tough league, man."

And that makes for what could be a very interesting mini-series.

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Buffalo Sabres when they return home to American Airlines Center on Thursday 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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