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Surging Stars top Canucks, extend point streak to seven games

Adversity has turned Dallas into a team that can overcome a lot of challenges -- and it's showing on the ice

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Stars on Thursday were playing the second half of a back-to-back.

They had some injuries after a 3-1 win in Calgary Wednesday, and they needed to work out whether or not Andrew Cogliano was good to go or not. They brought in Rhett Gardner as insurance, and also had to make a decision on whether or not Roman Polak would be able to play just his second game of the season after missing 19 games with a sternum injury.

So they skated 13 forwards and seven defenseman in warm-up and then decided for the game that Gardner and Polak were both in, and that Cogliano and Joel Hanley were both out.

 

[WATCH: All Stars vs. Canucks highlights]

 

That caused a little line shuffling and some adjustments, and just created a potential feeling of unrest.

Except, the feeling never materialized. The Stars went out and played another complete team game and took a 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena, pushing their record to 9-1-1 in the past 11 games and jumping to 10-8-2 overall.

It was a surgical performance from a team that has found its mojo and is swatting away challenges and adversity like snowflakes on a bobsled run. Dallas has allowed 17 goals during this 11-game stretch and now ranks second in the NHL in goals against average at 2.35 goals per game.

It's the same spot the Stars finished last season when they advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

Video: DAL@VAN: Dowling buries Seguin's pass for goal

"I think that's why we've turned things around," said forward Blake Comeau, who had his first goal of the year. "Everybody is playing good defensive hockey, we're checking well, we're getting great goaltending. That was the identity of the team last year, everybody bought into being on the right side of the puck. And when you have the talent we have, when we get opportunities to score, eventually they will go in.

"The hardest thing is to get 20 guys to buy into good, defensive hockey, and everyone is doing that."

In the past two games, Justin Dowling, Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin and Comeau have had pretty goals -- the kind that the team couldn't seem to find earlier in the season. Seguin, who has been struggling to get back to his point-a-game pace, had a goal and an assist Thursday. Jamie Benn broke a five-game point drought with an assist. Both he and Seguin were criticized after a 3-2 overtime loss in Winnipeg on Sunday, but the duo has played well when they were put on a line with Dowling.

"It started last game," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said of Seguin's rebound. "By our scoring chances, he had seven scoring chances for, zero against (in the Calgary game). A player as good as he is, it's a matter of time, and he broke through tonight. Same thing with Jamie. Jamie is playing great, hit the crossbar, hit posts, they're going to go in."

They already are for Dowling. He scored the first goal of his NHL career Wednesday and got another against the Canucks. Both were pretty toe-drag plays where Dowling, 29, used the skill he has developed as a scorer in the AHL, and was able to pull the goalie out of the net and then tuck the puck around him.

"You know he said he's done it in practice … I haven't seen it," Seguin said with a smile. "I saw him do it last night and I'm calling him out a little on it right now. … I saw him do it last night, and he did it again tonight. So if he can do it every night, I'm good with that."

That's the kind of fun banter a team that is winning can participate in. The Stars are doing that right now. Comeau, who scored on a frantic rush up ice that ended in a backhand goal, joked that Polak taught him the move when the duo was rehabbing from injuries. Polak finished with a goal and eight assists in 77 games last season, so he's typically not coaching skilled plays.

Video: DAL@VAN: Comeau scores incredible backhand goal

Asked what the 33-year-old defensemen adds to the team, Seguin smiled and said, "Personality."

And that's important for the Stars. Of course, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Polak also adds physicality, but his calm hand on defense was part of the entire team's presence on Thursday. Despite the fact Dallas saw a two-goal lead dissipate in the span of six minutes in the second period, the Stars put up a united front that not only shut down the Canucks but provided the key goals to take over the contest.

That's huge for a team that averages just 2.50 goals per game, 29th best in the NHL.

Seguin got the game-winner, converting a pretty pass from Miro Heiskanen at the 18:29 mark of the second period, and then Radulov put the game away with his patient, skilled play at the 17:24 mark of the third period.

In between, Anton Khudobin found a way to stop 32 shots and win his fourth game of the year. This is the third time this season the Stars have won the second half of a back-to-back, and it's because both Khudobin and Ben Bishop give the team a chance to win pretty much every game.

But as a team, this group is different now.

It really doesn't matter who is on the ice, they are all finding ways to contribute. Rookie Denis Gurianov watched as Nick Caamano was slammed into the boards by Vancouver defenseman (and former Stars defenseman) Jordie Benn in the first period. Gurianov immediately challenged Benn to a fight and set a tone that the Stars weren't going to be pushed around.

Video: DAL@VAN: Seguin scores to cap pretty passing play

"You see this team coming together, and they're bonding," Montgomery said. "That's huge for a guy like Denis that's known as a skill player, an offensive player, to go defend a teammate after a teammate got blown up. It speaks a lot about what's going on in that locker room, it speaks a lot about him as a young man and a teammate."

And a 9-1-1 run speaks about the entire Stars team. Seguin joked that getting off to a 1-7-1 start probably wasn't a great idea, but that the players did learn from the hard times.

"You like adversity early sometimes," Seguin said. "I don't think anybody likes 1-7-1, but we're rallying around each other. We're having complete team efforts last night and tonight. It's hard to ask for better road wins than that."

In fact, sometimes you just have to enjoy road wins like that.

Asked the obvious question if this team is different than it was a month ago, Montgomery laughed and said: "Yeah, for sure."

Asked how that happens, he said: "I don't know, but I'm glad it happened."

He's not the only one.

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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