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Stars, fans celebrate magical series win years in making

Dallas advances on home ice for the first time since 2008, giving the American Airlines Center faithful a night to cherish

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

It was hard to tell when Tyler Seguin leaped higher -- in hopes of setting a screen in front of John Klingberg's overtime shot … or when he leaped into the arms of Klingberg after the shot went in.

It was an emotional moment a long time in the making for the Stars.

Dallas beat the Nashville Predators, 2-1, at 17:02 of overtime Monday to clinch a first-round playoff series win in six games. It was only the second playoff series victory in 11 seasons for the Stars. It was their first clinching game at American Airlines Center since 2008.

It was magical.

 

[MARK STEPNESKI: Klingberg sends Stars past Nashville in overtime and on to Round 2 of playoffs]

 

"We just haven't been in the playoffs. We've had some good teams in here, but we haven't been able to show our stuff and get in those big moments because we haven't been in the playoffs," Seguin said when asked about the reality of the situation.

"That was pretty incredible, that crowd was crazy."

Seguin played just one game of the 13 postseason contests for Dallas in 2016 because of injury. He played six in 2014 for the Stars.

Now, he had 42 playoff games early in his career when he played with the Boston Bruins, before he was traded to Dallas. He has his name on the Stanley Cup as part of the 2011 Boston team. But he is in his sixth season with the Stars, and he is hungry to help this team win.

Video: Stars celebrate after series-clinching victory

And that's why he was as happy as a rookie after Klingberg scored.

He wasn't alone.

Players piled onto the ice. Coaches hugged on the bench. Fans celebrated madly. They had waited for this, and not always patiently. This was the payoff for that struggle through bankruptcy. This was the payoff for three coaches in three years. This was the payoff for a lot of hard work.

"It's big," goalie Ben Bishop said when asked about the fans. "They deserve it. They've been great all season. They've been unbelievable in the playoffs. It's fun to get the win for them. They're the real backbone of the organization, so for them to -- especially on home ice -- get that win, it's always a little bit nicer."

And maybe a little bit nicer when you start to understand what the players have gone through.

Blake Comeau is 33. He scored just his fourth playoff goal in 23 games and helped lead a checking line that coach Jim Montgomery called the best line on the ice.

Bishop has established himself as one of the best goalies in the NHL this season after getting moved out of Tampa Bay two seasons ago and battling through a few injuries. As he wakes up Tuesday morning, his 1.90 goals against average is tied for second in the playoffs and his .935 save percentage is third.

He has not only earned the respect of the Vezina Trophy voters, but the admiration of his teammates.

Video: NSH@DAL, Gm6: Klingberg scores in OT for series win

"I think, obviously, our best player once again was Bish," Klingberg said. "He just keeps us in the game."

But there was still plenty of credit to go around. The Stars have become a team, and the process has uncovered all sorts of heroes.

"You talk about how our culture's changed and how we've grown. Players like (Anton) Khudobin, (Roman) Polak, Comeau and (Andrew) Cogliano, they've been instrumental in that change," Montgomery said. "I think the journey through the year toughens you up and it definitely did for us. You have to face adversity to get better as a group, especially when it's your first time together. 

"The trust has grown. The trust is players to players, players to coaches and coaches to players. It's everyone."

 

[DON'T MISS A MOMENT: Individual-game tickets for Round 2 against St. Louis are available now]

 

And games like Monday's both test it and build it.

Dallas struggled early, and Bishop kept them in it. The Stars battled back, and players like Jamie Benn (eight shots on goal), Seguin (seven shots on goal), Comeau (five shots on goal) and Alexander Radulov (five shots on goal) helped put fear into the desperate Predators.

It was a battle to keep from going back to Nashville for Game 7, and it was pretty evenly fought.

"We know how good they are at home. We were treating this like a Game 7," Klingberg said. "We wanted to close it out today and not have to deal with going back there."

Video: Bogorad, Razor on Stars' series win over Predators

It was the kind of pressure the team has dealt with all season. From learning a new system, to dealing with scoring problems, to fighting to make it into the playoffs as a wild-card team, there were plenty of hurdles placed the way.

The Stars made a habit of clearing those hurdles.

"We had a lot of changes this year and a lot of uncomfortable conversations throughout the year," Seguin said. "Guys came out of their comfort zones, and that's what has made us a closer team. That's why we won tonight."

And that's the reason for the celebration. The Stars know this isn't the final goal. They have been able to adjust and reconnoiter and set new goals throughout the season. But they definitely deserve to relish this night before they move on to prepare for the second-round series against the St. Louis Blues.

"It was a great group effort tonight," said captain Jamie Benn. "We stuck with it, had some great chances that didn't go in, and then we found a way to get it done. To win a series at home, in that fashion, what an exciting time for our fans. It's great to get it done in front of them."

And beside them, as well.

"I feel great, there's nothing like it," Montgomery said. "I think Seggy said it the best: 'Wow, is this ever fun.'"

For everyone in the building Monday.

For complete postseason coverage, visit Stars Playoff Central.

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.

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