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Stars prove future is bright despite heartbreaking end

As its playoff run concludes following a Game 7 loss, Dallas enters the offseason with a 'building block' to take its next step

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- The Stars didn't want to talk about it Tuesday after a Game 7 loss in double overtime to the St. Louis Blues, but they had a good season.

They had a season where they grew as a team, where they embraced the philosophy of first-year coach Jim Montgomery, where they learned a great deal about where they are as an organization.

And yet, it wasn't enough during a hard-fought game against a talented opponent.

 

[WATCH: All Stars vs. Blues highlights from Game 7]

 

Patrick Maroon pounced on a rebound at 5:50 of the second overtime and sent St. Louis onto the Western Conference Final. The dagger also ended the Stars' season immediately.

And that, as captain Jamie Benn said, was pretty crappy.

"Right now, it sucks," Benn said. "Pretty self-explanatory."

You could understand the sentiment. The players had just poured four hours of sweat and emotion and teamwork into a contest and then had to accept the reality of the moment.

"I'm pretty empty right now," said defenseman John Klingberg. "I don't know. You're right in it, you're playing in overtime, you could reach the conference final, and then you lose like that. It's tough."

It was a hard series. Dallas consistently tried to create speed through the neutral zone and scoring chances off the rush, and succeeded wonderfully at times. St. Louis tried to work the puck more deliberately and set up in the offensive zone, and that worked for them.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm7: Blues, Stars shake hands after 2OT

But after the Stars won a 4-2 game at Enterprise Center in Game 5 and had a chance to close out the series in Game 6 in Dallas Sunday, the odds were looking good for a potential third round. So you could see this as a lost opportunity.

The Blues marched into American Airlines Center and imposed their will in a 4-1 victory in Game 6. They then did the same thing while dominating the second and third periods Tuesday. Through that 40-minute span, the Stars were outshot 31-3 and deserved pretty much all of that imbalance.

St. Louis' plan all series has been to establish its cycle, keep the puck in the offensive zone and wear down the Stars' small defense. They also have wanted to get into Ben Bishop's kitchen, and create all sorts of problems for the big goalie.

They did that, and then some.

The Blues hemmed the Stars in their own end for so long that when Dallas could get the puck out, the players were exhausted and couldn't muster the energy to create a counter-attack.

"They were coming, and we didn't find a way to adjust," center Tyler Seguin said. "We just didn't do anything and didn't grab the momentum. They're a good hockey team. I thought in overtime we started going a bit more, started getting more speed and zone time down there, but obviously not enough."

During that time, Bishop kept them in it. The big goalie, who calls St. Louis home, stood tall through shot after shot and kept the score 1-1. The bar-down goal he did allow may have been tipped, and then he was a wall after that.

He stood his ground against physical play, he sealed his posts, he ventured out of the net to help his struggling teammates handle the puck. He was Superman.

"He's just a great competitor and a great goaltender," Montgomery said. "He's up for the Vezina Trophy for a reason. He's an extremely talented goaltender and he manages the game really well."

Video: Seguin reacts to Stars' emotional Game 7 loss

Bishop said he just focused on the next shot, and tried to do his best. He was spectacular at times and finished with a career-high 52 saves in the game.

"I guess the first word that comes is frustrated," Bishop said. "There was a good opportunity there, and I'm just a little frustrated right now -- tough to end your season in OT."

Like most of the players, Bishop said he couldn't really see the big picture on Tuesday night. He said he would need time to absorb everything.

But if he needs help, he can look at a year where he reestablished himself as one of the best goalies in the NHL, where he marched into his hometown and almost pulled off a huge Game 7 victory. Likewise, John Klingberg can look back and see a season where he took over the team's defense and played against some of the toughest forwards in the league -- and almost did enough to beat them.

Roope Hintz showed he is not only an NHL regular, but possibly a star player. Jason Dickinson and Miro Heiskanen showed the future could be bright for a Dallas team that was bemoaning its lack of young players just last summer.

And general manager Jim Nill can move forward with a plan that could have the Stars becoming regular contenders. His coach learned tons, and seems eager to get back and take the next step with this team.

"We're only going to be better because of this playoff run. That's for sure, we are," Montgomery said. "The valuable experience some of our young players got in their first years, and some of the guys who haven't been to the playoffs, they excelled. A lot of them excelled at a high level in the playoffs.

"It's a good building block for next year."

It's just tough for the players to see that right 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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