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Feel-good win makes Stars' special game that much sweeter

On a night of milestones and storylines, Dallas stays true to its identity in holding off the Maple Leafs

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

TORONTO -- As "feel-good" moments go, you couldn't get much better than a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday.

Trips to Toronto often create good memories for Stars players, just because so many hail from here. But on Thursday, Andrew Cogliano played in his 1,000th game and picked up an assist in front of a large group of friends and family. Meanwhile, Jason Robertson played in his first NHL game in front of his parents and several friends. And, oh yeah, Tyler Seguin broke a career-long, 17-game goal drought by scoring in his hometown.

It was a great win against a solid opponent in which the Stars once again followed their game plan to a tee.

They shut down the third-highest scoring team in the league.

They scored on the power play for the sixth straight game.

Video: Bowness on Stars' good 'team effort' to beat Toronto

And they shuffled their lineup once again -- and made every change work.

Roman Polak came off a healthy scratch and played in his 800th career game. He logged 18:25, blocked three shots and fit right in. Ben Bishop came back after taking a couple of games off and stopped 27 shots.

"Pick something," said Seguin, the Ontario-born sniper who understands the accomplishments of his teammates. "Polak for 800 games, Cogs for 1,000, (Jamie) Benn one goal away from 300, I'm in a 17-game goal-less slump, and Robertson's first game. So many storylines."

 

[READ MORE: Andrew Cogliano becomes third Stars player to reach 1,000 games this season]

 

Mix in the fact it was in Toronto where so many Stars players cherished this team growing up, and that made it even better. The Maple Leafs were the third-highest scoring team in the NHL coming into the game, and Dallas was on its defensive game.

The Stars scored early in each period and played smart with the lead. They were positionally sound, they forced shots to the outside, they had 27 hits and 17 blocked shots compared to 12 hits and four blocked shots for the Maple Leafs. The Stars imposed their will, and they won the battle.

Video: Seguin, Bishop lead Stars past Maple Leafs

"We should be proud of how we played tonight," said Cogliano, who had a ton of friends and family in the stands. "If we want to do anything this season, that's how we have to play. That is one of the best teams in the league offensively, that line is as good as you're going to get in the league, and I thought overall we did a pretty good job against them."

Cogliano and linemates Radek Faksa and Blake Comeau had the assignment of checking Toronto's best players in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Matthews played 27:05 and had 11 shot attempts, while Marner logged 26:39 and had eight shot attempts. But the Stars found a way to frustrate them.

"That's a highly-skilled team over there. They have a lot of great players, and they're fun to watch and they're tough to check," Bowness said. "Bish was there and made the big saves when we needed them, but it was a really solid team effort."

And a really controlled team effort amid a great deal of emotion.

Jamie Oleksiak and Jason Dickinson are each from the area. Robertson's brother is a Toronto draft pick and plays in Peterborough. His parents were in the area to see his brother play in the OHL, so the call-up worked perfectly for him.

Video: Robertson discusses 'unreal' first point in NHL debut

Robertson played with the Texas Stars in Milwaukee on Wednesday, then flew into Toronto on Thursday afternoon and jumped right into the lineup.

"I played last night in Milwaukee and then I come here and play against the Maple Leafs, and they're so skilled and it's fast out there, but I thought I played pretty well and kept up with the pace, " said Robertson, trying to stifle laughter because it was surreal experience.

 

[RELATED: Adapting to change just a way of life for Jason Robertson]

 

"Unreal. It just happened so quickly. It's going to take some time to digest that, but it's really neat right now."

For the entire team, really.

Alexander Radulov is sidelined with an upper-body injury and will miss at least three games. Joe Pavelski also has an upper-body injury, and he could come back as soon as Saturday at Montreal. So there was a lot of uncertainty Thursday morning.

Video: DAL@TOR: Cogliano takes solo lap before 1,000th game

Then, the players tricked Cogliano into taking a solo lap at the start of warmup to honor his 1,000th game. Denis Gurianov scored 80 seconds into the game. Faksa converted a great pass from Comeau. Then, the support from the entire bench for Seguin's goal and Robertson's first point was tangible.

And that was the beauty of the win. The Stars have had to be patient while they have each dealt with individual slumps. But, at the same time, they have been buoyed by team performances that have them 33-19-5, good for 71 points.

"Sometimes, if you're an offensive guy, it can obviously suck if you're looking for that," Seguin said of the drive for points. "But we've all bought in and we understand the system and our identity and what works, and we go play all of these teams that can score a lot of goals, and we frustrate them. ... It was not the prettiest of games, but we greased it out and found a way to win."

Since the All-Star break, the team also has scored at least three goals in eight of nine games while going 6-2-1. They are playing their trademark defense and also starting to score more.

And that is not the easiest of transitions.

Video: Seguin on snapping 17-game goal drought in Stars' win

"We did this all last year," Bowness said when asked how hard it is to stick with the grinding, defensive style. "It brought us into the second round of the playoffs last year, and we're hoping it can carry us again into the playoffs and we'll have more success that way. Success. The way we're built with our speed, Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz coming in this year, giving us lots of speed up front, we're getting more chances than our goals for indicate, and a lot of it is because of our commitment to team defense."

And when you mix in a player like Robertson for possible depth, well, that just means even more optimism.

"He played very calm, very confident kid," Bowness said of the 20-year-old forward. "Good for him to get his first point. He wasn't out of place at all. We're very happy with him."

And did he serve as a microcosm of his team? Definitely. He stayed within himself and bought into the game plan in a very tough theater.

"Adrenalin, man -- there's nothing like adrenalin," Bowness said. "You put passion into the game and you put adrenalin into the game, and good things are going to happen."

Join the Stars for Hockey Is For Everyone Night when they return home to take on the Arizona Coyotes at American Airlines Center on Wednesday, Feb. 19 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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