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Stars take step forward with win over division-leading Avalanche

Hintz, Khudobin lead way as Dallas sees its confidence rewarded with fifth victory in six games

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Recap: DAL 2, COL 1

Khudobin makes 38 saves, Stars edge Avalanche

Anton Khudobin made 38 saves and Roope Hintz scored two goals as the Stars held on for a 2-1 victory against the Avalanche

  • 05:02 •

DENVER -- The Stars showed confidence Friday.

They were rewarded with confidence.

 

[WATCH: All Stars at Avalanche highlights]

 

Funny how these things work.

Dallas went toe-to-toe with the Central Division-leading Colorado Avalanche and earned a 2-1 win. Dallas started fast, took a few punches, and then muscled home the victory in a fierce and physical third period. It was a thing of beauty.

Video: DAL@COL: Montgomery reflects on gritty divisional win

"A division win on the road against the first-place team that did play well…that's a good effort by us," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery. "I thought we came out and had a lot of purpose and intent to our game."

It was a needed display of consistency that has been lacking at times this young season. What the Stars did Friday was duplicate a lot of what we saw Tuesday at the end of the game against Minnesota, a lot of what we saw Saturday at the beginning of the game against Pittsburgh.

They did that on the road, in a tough environment, against the second-best offense in the league. They did that in a way they should be able to do on a consistent basis. They did it by being aggressive when they got into the offensive zone, being resilient when they were stuck in the defensive zone, and by getting some fantastic goaltending.

They imposed their will on the game.

Video: DAL@COL: Khudobin preserves win for Stars

"We played our game, and that's it," said goalie Anton Khudobin, who finished with 38 saves. "We have to play like this, we have to. Aggressive, forecheck, hits, be above the puck, everything. It's just the way it is."

Khudobin was fantastic, but this wasn't a game where the goalie had to single-handedly save his team. The Stars forced Philipp Grubauer to make some tough saves, too, and they made the Avalanche have to dig in to try to get their speed game going.

The Stars have been slow beginning games, and panicked finishing them at times in this 6-8-1 start, but they were good out of the gate against Colorado (8-3-2). That was the result of some lessons learned Tuesday in a huge 6-3 comeback against Minnesota. It also was because of the coaching staff finding a few lines that had chemistry in that game.

The top line of Tyler Seguin with Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov drove energy into the game and forced Colorado to play in its own end. For the game, they finished with no points, but 20 shot attempts -- and that creates momentum that can feed other lines.

Video: DAL@COL: Hintz's two goals carries Stars to win

"I thought Seggy's line was the one that set the tone for the game," Montgomery said.

While defenseman John Klingberg added: "We said wanted to come out quick and we got out to a two-goal lead, and then I thought we defended really well."

That two-goal lead came courtesy of Roope Hintz, who now has nine goals on the season. Hintz made a great defensive play checking Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon and he then headed up ice in the first period. Hintz took a pass from Denis Gurianov and put a shot on net. Grubauer made the save, but Hintz poked home his own rebound and the Stars had the first goal of the game.

Then, when Dallas was killing a penalty, Mattias Janmark found Hintz in the neutral zone. The big center buzzed in and slipped home the game-winner at the 5:39 mark of the second period.

Video: DAL@COL: Hintz converts second try to open scoring

Of course, Colorado pushed right back, and that's the fun part of sports. You love the combat, the intensity, the truculence. That's why you watch, to see two teams battle for something they deem is important.

The Stars played hard Friday. They wanted this game. They want to come back and make the playoffs. You could feel it through the television screen. And that is contagious.

Yes, they have to make smart decisions and be in the right spot and offer puck support and win one-on-one battles, but all of that is easier when the intensity is higher, when the speed of the game seems perfectly fine.

Dallas received exceptional performances from Hintz and Khudobin, but the top line also had several great shifts and showed that talent and "want-to" are a dangerous combination. Montgomery gave credit to Gurianov and Janmark on the Hintz goals. And Miro Heiskanen played 27:20 and had eight blocked shots.

Video: DAL@COL: Khudobin anchors Stars to win in Denver

It was a great sign of just how deep the Stars can be.

And maybe for the first time in the same game, we saw just a glimpse of what Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski can add. Perry got in a pushing match with Grubauer in the second period and clearly made a statement that this wouldn't be an easy game in front of Colorado's net. Pavelski pushed and pulled and shoved and grabbed with Nazem Kadri during in one sequence and came out with the penalty call against Kadri.

It was a veteran move, the kind of move you need in tough games down the stretch. In fact, it's just the kind of play that could turn a revved-up game in the playoffs, so seeing it now is a happy sign.

This is a possible playoff showdown, and had you asked a week ago, that would have scared a lot of fans. You also have to take into consideration that the Avalanche is missing two of its best players in Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, so let's not get too far ahead of this game. But the arena was packed, the tension was high, and the Stars didn't crumble.

Video: DAL@COL: Hintz snaps one five-hole for SHG

They came out hard, they took advantage of their opportunities, and they shut things down well enough to allow Khudobin to get a win. It was an impressive statement for one night.

"It gives us a lot of confidence, but I think the last five games we have been playing pretty good," Klingberg said of the team winning five of the past six games. "From mistakes, you learn as well. We still have a lot of stuff we need to improve, and that we're going to work on, but it's good to come out with a win."

The Stars didn't play a perfect game Friday. They certainly have more things they can work on Saturday when they face Montreal at American Airlines Center. But what they did was carry the momentum and play a game that they should be able to play on a regular basis.

And for now, that's a nice step to be taking.

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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