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'Tight-knit' Stars unfazed by adversity in OT win over Blues

From missing its coach because of illness to rallying from a two-goal deficit, Dallas again proves unflappable in St. Louis

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- Jamie Benn said it best.

After the Stars rallied back from a two-goal deficit to beat the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, 3-2, in their own barn on the second night of a back-to-back with interim coach Rick Bowness sidelined by illness, the absurdity of the season lay bare for just a second.

Yes, this season that started 1-7-1, this season in which Bowness took over for Jim Montgomery as head coach, this season that included the Winter Classic and a thousand questions about lack of scoring … it all was set on the table for one night.

"You've just got to laugh, really," Benn said. "It's just one thing after another after another. Nothing we can do about it. Players go down and other players step up and play bigger roles. When coaches go down, other coaches step up and play bigger roles.

Video: DAL@STL: Benn on Stars' 'big win' over Blues in OT

"We're a tight-knit group, and once again, adversity didn't faze us today."

Maybe adversity is actually saving this team right now.

It doesn't matter the problem, the Stars have faced it. So losing a 3-2 home game to the Minnesota Wild on Friday in the final minute of the game was more motivation than concern. And finding out at about 3 p.m. that Bowness would not be available to coach, well, that was just another game day for this group.

In a flash, assistant John Stevens became the head coach, but stayed on the defensemen in game deployment. Meanwhile, fellow assistants Todd Nelson and Derek Laxdal deployed a shuffled forward group. And everything seemed to flow perfectly.

Video: DAL@STL: Hintz beats Binnington for overtime winner

"This group has done a really good job in terms of their professionalism handling some difficult situations this year, and today was a great example of that," Stevens said. "We have a veteran group here and they're a huge help. They were very talkative on the bench and if they didn't know who was up, they asked. But it was pretty seamless."

Well, there were a few hiccups early.

Blues defenseman Colton Parayko scored twice in the first period to stake St. Louis to a 2-0 lead and dig the adversity hole even deeper. But the Stars chipped away and crawled back. Benn made a deft redirection on a Mattias Janmark pass on the power play to make it 2-1 at the first intermission, and then Corey Perry made a fantastic feed to Roope Hintz to tie the game at the 13:25 mark of the second period.

Between the goals, the Stars played a pretty solid game. They did a lot of good things in the Minnesota loss, but made too many mistakes and that cost them. While they also had some errors against the Blues, they exchanged punches with a team that leads the Western Conference. They had a 34-25 advantage in shots on goal. They had a 55-48 advantage in shot attempts. They played chin to chin with the physical Blues. They raced up and down the ice despite having played in Dallas the night before.

Video: DAL@STL: Stevens on leading Stars in Bowness' absence

"It's a huge win for us," said Perry, the veteran free-agent signing who has been taking significant strides in recent weeks. "It's definitely a stepping stone in the right direction. Coming off last night, a disappointing loss in the last minute, but we came in and showed them we can play with this team, and we played pretty well.

"If we continue that, we're going to be fine."

Bowness said in the morning he just wanted to see his team continue the good things it started on Friday. The Stars are trying hard to become a team that possesses the puck, that outshoots the opposition, that plays a smart two-way game. That's been a challenge this season for a team that ranks 26th in scoring. But these past two games show that even if Dallas doesn't always score big, it can force the opposition goalie to be very good.

Jordan Binnington was Saturday -- and yet the Stars found a way to break through in the end.

Video: DAL@STL: Khudobin extends pad to rob O'Reilly

After the game went to overtime, the coaching staff did some more juggling, first dealing with a power play and then 4-on-4 and finally 3-on-3 hockey. Miro Heiskanen fed Hintz for his second goal of the game, and Dallas exited with an emotional win.

It was a deployment whirligig, but the coaches made it work all night.

"It was natural," Perry said. "We knew before the game what we were up against. You just have to be aware on the bench and be ready and I thought we were dialed in right from the start."

Stevens credited the players and the coaching staff for working hard together. He also credited the players with stepping up to win a key game for their sick coach.

Video: DAL@STL: Hintz scores twice in Stars' OT victory

"I think the guys really rallied around Bones," Stevens said. "They've got an enormous amount of respect for him, how much he cares and how much passion he has, so I think they really dug in for them. The group deserves a lot of credit."

So does Bowness, for working through the transition and getting his team to this spot. The veteran assistant turned interim head coach likes to lean on his staff heavily, so they know what to do. The fact they did it without him is a great tribute to just how good he is doing his job.

The Stars (31-19-5) are six points behind St. Louis (32-15-9) for first place in the Central Division. They have two more games against the Blues this season. At the very least, Dallas showed that those two games should be pretty intense. At the very most, the Stars left a reminder that if they have to play the Blues in the playoffs, it has the potential to be a great series.

Asked if this is a sign of what the Stars can do, Benn also had the perfect answer.

Video: Hintz scores overtime winner to push Stars past Blues

"We know how we can play," he said. "It's up to us to bring it every night."

There's a very good chance Bowness will be running practice on Monday and will be back on the bench Tuesday when the Stars play at home against Carolina. But the memory of what the Stars accomplished Saturday will linger for some time.

"They are the bar," Stevens said of the Blues. "They deserve a lot of credit for what they have done. They come off the Stanley Cup, they haven't missed a beat, and they're leading the conference again. It's big. Two points is really really important against this team."

Join the Stars for Military Appreciation Night as they take on the Carolina Hurricanes at American Airlines Center on Tuesday 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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