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Stars find way to clear another emotional hurdle in win

On a day where its game took a backseat, Dallas showed just how well it can handle adversity

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- It was a long, strange day for the Dallas Stars Tuesday, but it ended pretty good.

Well, kinda good.

Sort of.

 

[READ MORE: Stars give Rick Bowness bittersweet first win in shutout of Devils]

 

Players and coaches were called early to American Airlines Center to be told by management that head coach Jim Montgomery was fired for committing a "material act of unprofessionalism." It was a shocking reminder how fast things can change in the NHL … and in life, really.

So when those same players and coaches came together and played one of the more complete games this year in taking a 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils, you had to feel that they proved something to themselves … and to the NHL.

Video: NJD@DAL: Bowness on bittersweet debut as Stars coach

This team can handle adversity, and this team does indeed have a great defensive identity.

But as you were thinking of new and different ways to anoint the Stars as something special, newly-minted interim coach Rick Bowness peeled back the layers and showed how tough it is sometimes to work in professional sports. Bowness, 64, has not been a head coach in the NHL since 2004, and he's been holding onto that dream in previous off-seasons.

But, he said, getting that job because of something bad happening to his friend was bittersweet, to say the least.

"This is one crazy day," Bowness said when he addressed the media post-game. "As excited as I am to be in charge again and be behind the bench, this is not the way I had envisioned it, nor is it the way I wanted it."

"I came here to work with Monty and to work with one of the best organizations in the league with a lot of great players and to win the Stanley Cup with Monty -- so as excited as you are, there is a downside," he added. "This is not what I came here for. I didn't need a job when I came here. I had three or four other opportunities, but Dallas was the place I wanted to come to, and Monty was a big part of that. In that regard, it's disappointing."

Video: NJD@DAL: Pavelski on shutout, Stars' coaching change

That is the essence of Tuesday. It was heart-wrenching for Rick Bowness, and assistant coaches John Stevens, and Todd Nelson. It was confusing for fans, who wanted answers that they might never get. It was difficult for the players, who really felt they were building something good with Montgomery.

"It's confusion and shock, it's definitely sad," said forward Tyler Seguin. "I really liked Monty. He's a great coach. I was saying all along that I was looking forward to this being the last coach of my Stars career. But stuff happens that's not in my control or the guys' control. We trust our management and our GM, Jim Nill. Whatever happened, that was a decision made by them, and we support them."

 

[RELATED: Stars try to 'move forward' following Jim Montgomery's dismissal]

 

That support was clear to start Tuesday's game. The New Jersey Devils are struggling and didn't look great against the Stars, but it was clear that Dallas was on point in its attack. The Stars had 2-0 lead in goals and a 16-2 advantage in shots on goal after 20 minutes. It was a clinic of the aggressive defensive hockey this team believes in.

It was a statement, really.

"What I noticed is, regardless of structure, the guys were working their butts off., they really were," Bowness said. "They wanted to be on the ice, and you've got to love that about athletes. They're energized like that, and they wanted to be a factor and an impact on the ice. I really liked the energy."

Video: NJD@DAL: Bishop on Stars' effort after tough day

In a lot of ways, the ice is a sanctuary for a hockey player. Whatever problems he's having in his life, it tends to disappear in a game. The focus of details helps push everything to the outside. It was like that for the Stars Tuesday.

Except the game was also a reminder of everything that had happened.

"Anytime something like that happens, it's the easiest part," forward Joe Pavelski said of the two hours when they are playing the game. "And you know what? Throughout the year so far, Monty's done a great job preparing this group, and I think today was an example of that.

"What he's established here with this group, it's a good foundation for us to come out and play hard. We know what we want to do and accomplish. Guys did a tremendous job competing and playing to our identity."

That is the emotional tapestry of the Stars right now. They felt things were already great. Now, they have to go forward and really make them great.

Video: NJD@DAL: Bishop earns first shutout of the season

A 2-0 win over the Devils was a fantastic start. The Stars had a 35-26 advantage in shots on goal and a 70-45 advantage in shot attempts. They spent long stretches in the offensive zone and snuffed out a lot of New Jersey forays into the defensive zone. Ben Bishop got his first shutout of the year, and said he liked the team in front of him.

"Everybody contributed, and it was a great game from start to finish," Bishop said. "I thought the guys did a great job sticking with it all three periods and not really giving them much all game."

That is the mantra of this team that has been both inconsistent and stunningly reliable. Dallas is 12-4-1 at home, it is 17-4-2 in its past 23 games. It is a good team. In fact, the way it has handled adversity this season, it might be a very good team.

 

[RELATED: 5 things to know about Stars interim coach Rick Bowness]

 

This is going to be a hard season in a hard division that could be followed by a hard postseason. If the Stars make the playoffs, they might have to sort through some combination of the Blues, Avalanche and Jets in the first two rounds. That's something you don't even want to think about right now.

But if they do indeed take it step by step; if they do indeed remember that win in Philadelphia to stop the horrendous start; if they do indeed remember that comeback against Minnesota; if they do indeed remember answering the bell against Winnipeg; then maybe they will have the strength to handle whatever challenges come.

Video: Jim Nill addresses Stars' dismissal of Jim Montgomery

They did it again Tuesday. They stared adversity in the face and played a great team game.

"We have an experienced group in here -- a lot of guys that have been around a long time," Bishop said. "In sports, unfortunately, people lose their jobs, and people get traded. You don't have much time to react, and you can't sit there and soak it all in. You have to get back to work, and I thought the guys did a great job.

"We did a pretty good job today of sticking to our game-day routine and having our meetings, coming to the rink, and focusing on the New Jersey Devils. …I thought we did a good job of sticking with our game plan and taking it to them."

It was a pretty good ending to a long, strange day.

In fact, a really good ending.

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Vegas Golden Knights as they wrap up the homestand at American Airlines Center on Friday at 7 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.

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