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Stars help deliver 'perfect' Winter Classic with comeback win

Before 85,000-plus at Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas and its fans make a Texas-sized statement against the Predators

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was talking about the weather Wednesday, but he might as well have been talking about the entire 2020 NHL Winter Classic.

Asked if the weather was "just about perfect," Bettman replied emphatically: "Not just about … this was perfect. It's comfortable for the fans, the temperature is good for the ice, there's no precipitation, and there's no sun. The cloud cover couldn't be more perfect. This is an ideal weather situation for us at an outdoor game."

In fact, it was an ideal situation in pretty much every regard.

Attendance was 85,630 (the second-largest crowd to ever attend an NHL game), fans enjoyed a Texas-themed event that included country music, the State Fair Midway, and pig races -- and the Stars found a way to forge an exciting comeback win, 4-2, over the Nashville Predators.

Video: NSH@DAL: Bowness on emotions of Winter Classic win

"Everything, really, was perfect," said Stars president Brad Alberts.

It could go down as one of the best Winter Classics ever, and it started in the mind of Alberts as kind of a long shot. While the Stars had hoped to get a Stadium Series game at some point, logistics kept getting in the way. So Alberts envisioned how nice it would be to deal with Cotton Bowl Stadium, and the NHL decided to share his vision by holding the game on New Year's Day.

 

[WATCH: All highlights from Stars' come-from-behind win in Winter Classic]

 

It was a big risk, but NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said days before the game: "It's great because it is different. It's great because we haven't done anything like this before."

Yes, it was an outdoor hockey game in Texas. Yes, it is the furthest south a Winter Classic has ever been played. Yes, it was just a little weird. But that's what made it special.

Video: NSH@DAL: Stars erupt for three goals in 3rd for lead

Stars players embraced the ambiance by wearing western clothing provided by Lucchese as they walked in (and also in many of the postgame interviews), and the arena was decked out like an old gun fight in a panhandle town. Mix in the nods to hockey history in Dallas and Nashville, and the stage was set for something special.

The game then delivered.

The Stars and Predators are forging a nice little rivalry, with Dallas beating Nashville in the playoffs last season, and the Stars taking a 4-1 victory just a few weeks back in Nashville. So when Stars winger Corey Perry came sailing across the ice to try to make a defensive play on Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis, the crowd was stunned to see Perry's elbow connect with Ellis' head.

Perry said it was an accident and apologized afterward, but he was ejected from the game and received a five-minute major penalty just 2:44 into the game. The Stars then complicated things when Blake Comeau was whistled for shooting a puck out of play and received a delay of game penalty. Nashville scored two power-play goals, and exited the first period with a nice cushion and a feeling that maybe they could be the villains here.

Video: NSH@DAL: Stars reflect on Winter Classic comeback win

But one of the weird things about the Stars this season is they have had plenty of adversity. They started the year 1-7-1, they had their coach fired on Dec. 10, they have battled to find consistency -- both on and off the ice. So when they got hammered with a five-minute major and a 2-0 deficit, they didn't really even flinch.

"We've shown we're a very resilient group this year," said Blake Comeau, who scored a goal and drew a key penalty. "It just seems like we're getting a timely power play goal or a timely save from the goaltender. It's obviously not the way we wanted to start this game, but for us to look at where we were at after the first period, we knew we would stick with it."

 

[PHOTOS: The best shots from Stars vs. Predators at Cotton Bowl Stadium]

 

Comeau was a microcosm of the Stars' effort. He was knocked to the ice on a hard hit in the first period and had to go into the NHL's concussion protocol. However, he returned and earned first star of the game with his play.

"This is a character guy who shows up every day as a professional," Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said. "He's a tremendous competitor, he's a tremendous teammate, leads by example, and vocal in the room when he needs to be. He's a great asset and is playing his heart out. Players feed off of that."

Video: NSH@DAL: Bishop shuts the door on Smith

The Stars seem to be getting better at this comeback thing. They have won three straight when trailing after two periods and now have seven third-period comebacks, most in the NHL. There's something to be said for overcoming so many problems earlier in the season.

"I don't think our group shies away from any adversity," said forward Jason Dickinson. "You hit us with anything, and we've got the right guys who are going to rise up against it."

Comeau scored with 1:08 left in the second period to draw the Stars to within one goal at 2-1. Then, Dallas unleashed its flurry to start the third period, dominated possession, and scored three goals in six minutes. The Stars earned two power plays, and received goals from Mattias Janmark and Alexander Radulov.

The Radulov goal came on a blistering one-timer off a nice pass from John Klingberg, and gave Dallas its first lead. The Cotton Bowl erupted in one of the seminal moments for Stars fans since the team moved to Texas in 1993.

Video: NSH@DAL: Radulov fires massive one-timer for PPG

"That was the loudest (I've ever heard)," Stars center Tyler Seguin said when asked about the cheer. "That was cool."

Andrej Sekera then added an insurance goal, which just happened to be his first in a Stars uniform, and that was also appropriate for this season and this game. The Stars have been built on rolling four lines and three defense pairs, and also using both goaltenders. They are the ultimate reflection of "team" play. So it was Wednesday that Dallas pushed to 23-14-4 (50 points) by using most of their assets.

 

[RAPID REACTION: Cogliano, Seguin react to Stars' Winter Classic victory]

 

Ten different players tallied points, including Sekera, Comeau, Dickinson and Janmark. Ben Bishop made 31 saves. Everyone played more than 11 minutes in the game.

"I think it's the way that the guys buy into the style of play that we have to play," Comeau said. "Even if we're down two or three goals I don't feel like anyone goes off on their own page. We want to play a hard, good defensive game and we feel like we're going to get our chances.

Video: NSH@DAL: Stars and Predators meet for handshakes

"It's a good job by us lately of just sticking with it."

It made a great experience even better. Put on a Winter Classic and show that hockey is thriving in Texas? That's nice. Score three third period goals and dazzle a full stadium and national television audience? Well, that can be something that's historically special.

"If I was out there watching that game or I was watching this on television I would say, 'That was awesome, man,'" Bowness said. "The whole thing was awesome."

You might even say perfect.

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Detroit Red Wings at American Airlines Center on Friday 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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