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After another loss, what will it take to get Stars back in gear?

Dallas players have received pretty much every form of motivation this season, and now have to find a way to respond

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

There's a great scene in the movie "Little Big League" where 12-year-old manager Billy Heywood reminds the Minnesota Twins exactly who they are.

"Maybe the problem is you guys forgot how much fun this is," Heywood said in a pivotal scene of the 1994 film where he inherits the baseball team from his grandpa and then names himself manager. "You're major leaguers. I mean, you're on baseball cards. What could be better? Don't you understand? You guys get to play baseball every day. You get to go to Yankee Stadium and play in the same outfield as Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. You get to go to Fenway Park, step into the same batter's box as Ted Williams."

It's a great moment of realization for the Twins, who regain their path and become a winning team again.

If only the Stars could have that kind of moment this season. If only they had a reminder of just how lucky they are.

Oh wait, they did … just Wednesday.

Video: Montgomery wants to see more passion from Stars

They literally were given the "Little Big League" treatment by a group of kids who reminded the NHL superstars that this is a game where you're supposed to relax and have fun, and trust your talent. After heart patient Anderson McDuffie and his friends played the Stars in a Make-A-Wish game, the feeling was a transformation had taken place.

And then the Stars went out and gave another uninspired performance in a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. Yep, the same Kings who entered the game in last place in the NHL. Just like the Flyers were in last place before they beat the Stars. Just like the Blues came into American Airlines Center and took a convincing victory as they try to get back into playoff position.

Seriously, what will motivate this team?

Coach Jim Montgomery gathered lines and groups of players before the Blues game Saturday to emphasize just how important the game was. He was so frustrated after a flat performance he said, "I am very frustrated that I have not been able to gain consistency in our performance and I haven't been able to change the culture of mediocrity."

After those strong words, the Stars came back and looked good in a 2-0 loss to the league's best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Montgomery was encouraged. The Stars then had a magical day Wednesday, and the belief was they understood just how important it is to get points during a stretch of six games at home.

Video: Seguin wants a more simplified team game from Stars

The thought was they understood that they needed to beat the struggling Kings.

And yet, it didn't materialize on the ice.

The Stars waded into the game once again and got down 1-0. They have scored fewer first-period goals than any team in the league (22) and have now scored a total of three goals in the past four games.

How is that even possible?

What's more, Montgomery decided to bench Alexander Radulov for the final 10 minutes of the first period. Radulov said it was deserved.

Video: LAK@DAL: Lindell deflects in late goal

"I got benched," Radulov said. "It was the right decision by the coach. I wasn't playing good. I think I talked backed to Monty, and he basically benched me until the end of the period. It's the right decision and I can't do that, you know? It's been an issue in my career, but I've got to learn from it and be better and try not to make those mistakes again."

The irony of the situation is Radulov actually probably will learn from it. He's the team's most emotional player, and everyone is frustrated, so it's going to show up at times. But he probably will be better going forward. Montgomery said he felt he made the right decision, but that it was a tough one.

"Every decision we make is what's best for the Dallas Stars, and at that moment, I thought that was best for the Dallas Stars," he said, before adding that benching Radulov when the team needed him was difficult. "When you're struggling to score goals, it's hard to do with a player of that caliber."

So what does it all mean? Well, it sure doesn't seem good right now.

The organization feels the time to win is now. It made a move to get Andrew Cogliano in hopes of bringing in more speed and more veteran savvy. Pundits and fans speculated that the trade of popular young forward Devin Shore to the Ducks would provide another message -- another subtle motivation to the players that they need to be better.

Video: LAK@DAL: Bishop absorbs Forbot's chance

And it sure looks like it didn't work.

Ben Bishop had one fumble Thursday. He should have secured the rebound that trickled to Carl Hagelin and was slapped in for a 2-0 lead 25 minutes into a 60-minute game. It was a mistake, but it underscores just how important goaltending has been this season.

They can't afford to make a mistake, even one is too much.

The Stars tried hard to come back. They were ironically led by Radulov, who finished with six shot attempts and had an assist on the lone goal. They showed something, but is it enough to keep hope alive.

To paraphrase Billy Heywood, when he reminded the Twins of just how great they once were: You're Tyler Seguin…and you're Jamie Benn…and you're John Klingberg…

Video: Comeau says Stars need to go back to basics

The thought was they were able to realize that Wednesday. The reality is this isn't a Hollywood movie.

The Stars still sit in a wild-card playoff spot in the West, but they are in a swamp of losing teams holding on for dear life. Montgomery called the four-game losing streak "a wasted opportunity," and he's right.

"I guess the only positive is that other teams around us are struggling right now, as well," said forward Blake Comeau. "But we can't keep counting on other teams to lose. We haven't been playing very good hockey at all lately, and it's up to the guys in the room to turn it around.

"We're the guys that are putting the skates on. We're the guys that have got to go out and get the job done. Whatever your role is on this team, we've got to expect each other to bring that role and everyone to bring their best hockey."

It's a message that has been delivered a lot of different ways this season.

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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