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Stars' hot streak continues with impressive win over Habs

With six victories in seven games and a sweep of its back-to-back, Dallas' season is finally getting on track

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Recap: MTL 1, DAL 4

Gurianov, Bishop propel Stars past Canadiens

Denis Gurianov found the back of the net twice, while Ben Bishop made 35 saves in net to lead the Stars to a 4-1 victory

  • 05:04 •

DALLAS -- This Stars' victory is brought to you by the letter "P."

Like in a penalty shot by Denis Gurianov, the first of his pro career and the game-winning goal.

 

[GAME RESPECTS GAME: Stars honor Mavericks legend Nowitzki with special puck drop]

 

Or the power play, which went 2-for-4 and looked as pretty as it has all season.

Or the penalty kill, which stopped five of Montreal's power plays.

Or maybe most impressive, it's for persistence, as the team fought for a big win in Colorado on Friday, dealt with tough travel and an early start to Saturday's game, and still found a way to beat a red-hot Montreal Canadiens squad, 4-1, at American Airlines Center on Saturday.

Video: MTL@DAL: Montgomery reacts to Stars' win over Habs

It was a powerful, patient, poised performance that certainly earned the team some praise.

"I think it says quite a bit," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said when asked what these two wins say about the team. "I think the lowest minutes (among forwards) may have been 12-1/2 to 13 and the highest was 16, so when you can play with that kind of balance that's how you win in back-to-back games when the schedules are like this. 

"Everyone feels a part of it and everyone's role is increased and everyone has more energy when they're on the ice."

Promising, eh?

It certainly is a change of pace from earlier in the season. After starting 1-7-1, Dallas has now reeled off six of seven wins to move to 7-8-1. Still not what this team was built to be, but certainly a lot closer.

Video: MTL@DAL: Radulov beats Price's glove for PPG

And in these past two days, they really played about as well as they could.

They had to go up into the high air in Colorado Friday to play an Avalanche team that was off to an 8-2-2 start. Yes, Colorado was missing two of its best players due to injuries, but the Avalanche still put a great performance on the ice, and the Stars had to match it.

They did. Led by goalie Anton Khudobin and big center Roope Hintz, Dallas earned a win against a Central Division opponent who might end up being a first-round playoff opponent.

The Stars then had to fly back to Dallas, landing at 2:45 a.m., and had to turn around and play the Canadiens at 6 p.m. It was an odd juxtaposition for a back-to-back, and it certainly tested the mettle of these minds. But the fact they seemed to coast through it without so much as a hiccup was an impressive statement on just what everyone should be expecting from this bunch.

"It's just finding a way to win," said goalie Ben Bishop. "We were starting to play well and not necessarily getting results. The last few games, not only are we kind of finding our game, but also finding a way to win at the end of the game or in the third period instead of finding a way to lose.

Video: MTL@DAL: Bishop says penalty kill was key in victory

"I think we understand what it takes, and tonight was a strong case of everybody doing their jobs."

Bishop had his own issues to worry about. He was pulled Tuesday with his team down 2-0 to Minnesota, and said he wasn't completely on board with Montgomery's assessment in that decisions. But the two talked it out, and Bishop jumped back in net Saturday.

"I want to finish the game there, so I wasn't very happy with that," he said of being pulled against Minnesota. "But at the end of the day, you've got to go out and do your job. He's the coach and you're the player and he gets paid to make those decisions. You might not always agree with them, but when it's your turn to go out, you just have to go out and play."

He did just that, keeping the Stars calm during an early push from the Canadiens and really giving them the strength to play the game they wanted to play.

That was important. The Stars aren't going anywhere without good goaltending. Even with 12 goals in the past three games, Dallas still sits 28th in offense at 2.31 goals per game. Last season, they were 29th at 2.55. They are a hard-scoring team.

Video: MTL@DAL: Gurianov goes five-hole on a penalty shot

But during this stretch, they have five wins where they have allowed one goal against. After Bishop stopped 35 shots on Saturday, Dallas sits eighth at 2.50 goals against per game. They could push that to top five…or top three…or top one at the end of the season. That's how good they are at playing defense and getting good goaltending.

Bishop is an incredibly consistent performer when you look at long stretches. All you have to do is study a few of his "vs." stats and you see how many opponents he has career save percentage exceeding .920. He's that good. Mix in Khudobin, who played 41 games last season and had a .923 save percentage (good enough for eighth in the NHL), and you have two great options every single game.

If you want to know the team's identity, it's that they find a way to keep the score low.

So when you do that, you have a way of being in almost every game. Then, it's up to players and coaches to find a way to not make too many mistakes. The Stars earlier were shooting themselves in the foot during that hard start. Now, they're making smart plays in key situations and winning games.

To be fair, the first 11 games were jammed into 19 days with travel between nine of the outings. That's a real explanation for why they might not have played their best. Some might say it's an excuse, but there were tangible challenges that made it more difficult to win.

Video: MTL@DAL: Lindell on Stars' progression, special teams

This past stretch has included five of six games at home spread over 14 days. There was time to practice, time to rest, time to reset. That also is an explanation for why they are playing better.

But these past two games weren't easy. They forced the players to dig deep inside, and the players liked what they found. Maybe, just maybe, they are the team they thought they could be. Maybe, just maybe, this plan on paper can work on the ice.

October was a rough month, filled with a little bit of panic and a lot of psychotherapy. But if we have seen anything in these first two November games, it's that there definitely can be a light at the end of the tunnel.

The players are more determined, more intense, more happier. Denis Gurianov had two goals Saturday and now has six points in 12 games. The rookie winger has returned from the AHL with a new outlook. Roope Hintz continues to develop into what you could imagine is a certified All-Star. Miro Heiskanen gets better every game. The top line seems to have found its mojo once again.

If this team can play anything like it did the past two nights, the Stars really can put together some wins and get themselves into playoff position. The schedule for arriving at that moment seemed closer to Christmas a week ago. Maybe they can shoot to be back in the mix at Thanksgiving now.

Video: MTL@DAL: Bishop snares quick wrister through traffic

It's getting ahead of ourselves, sure, but it's so easy to do.

That said, the point of all of this is that they have played just 16 games, and they really can still fulfill some of the dreams they have for this year. That "P" word is perspective, and it can be hard to grasp at times.

Maybe this will help in that department.

"We've won six of seven now, but we're still not at .500," Montgomery said. "We're going to enjoy the day off, catch up on some NFL, have some barbecue and get back to work on Monday, because we have one of the three teams ahead of us (Colorado) in our division on Tuesday."

And that is simply part of the process.

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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