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Stars' transition to 'confident bunch' has been a fun ride

Dallas looked like one of the league's most dominant teams in its rout of Vancouver to open the homestand

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- The Stars are a completely different team than they were a month ago.

Dallas hit the nine-game mark on Oct. 18 at 1-7-1, a massive disappointment when compared to preseason expectations, and sort of a mess when it came to handling adversity.

Since then, they have slowly changed their fortunes and started to ride a wave of positivity that looks unstoppable at times. In addition to taking their recent run to 11-1-1, the Stars looked like one of the most dominant teams in the NHL Tuesday, beating the Vancouver Canucks, 6-1.

 

[WATCH: All Stars vs. Canucks highlights]

 

"Success breeds confidence," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "We're playing to our identity and growing in our execution offensively, which, I think, is very noticeable."

It has indeed been a bit of everything for this team, but pretty much all of the problems look solved against the Canucks.

Video: VAN@DAL: Montgomery on Stars' rout of Canucks

The scoring slump for captain Jamie Benn and linemate Tyler Seguin? Obliterated in a run that has Benn with three goals in the past two games and Seguin with seven points in the past three.

The fear that missing John Klingberg (lower body) and Roope Hintz (lower body) to injury would cripple the team? Justin Dowling had a goal and an assist helping to fill the hole left by Hintz, while Taylor Fedun played beside Esa Lindell for much of the game and finished with a goal in 15:16 of ice time.

The curiosity of playing Ben Bishop one game after he was pulled in Edmonton? Bishop had one of his most quietly spectacular games, stopping 32 shots and making it very easy for the Stars to play with the confidence that could result in six goals.

"It's felt great," said Fedun. "I think we're doing a lot of things together out there and finding different ways to win games, and ultimately doing a good job of keeping the puck out of our net. I think both our goaltenders have been superb for us here, and our team game is really taking strides in the right direction.

"I think we are a confident bunch when we're playing this way."

Video: VAN@DAL: Benn sneaks backhander through five-hole

It was that kind of game. It's been that kind of month. Now, to be clear, this hasn't all been easy and it didn't happen overnight. There were hard victories that had to be managed. There were adjustments that had to be coached. There were mental challenges that had to be hurdled.

In putting together an impressive comeback, a lot of work had to be done between the dots and between the ears. But the Stars have done all of that.

On Tuesday, Dallas had an early goal by Dowling overturned on a coach's challenge for offside. Seguin's skate was off by an inch, so the goal was negated and a big momentum boost was taken away. But instead of allowing that to bog them down, the Stars went out and scored the first goal anyway.

Benn, who broke a 15-game goal drought (the longest of his career) with an overtime winner in Edmonton on Saturday, scored on a very similar play. He walked to the net, he pulled the puck to his backhand, and he pushed home his third goal of the season.

That was big.

Video: VAN@DAL: Benn lifts rebound home from circle for PPG

"It was really important," Montgomery said of coming back from the disallowed goal. "I think we've really matured as a team in that area."

Then, Benn added a second goal on the power play in the second period. It was a beautiful, confident goal -- a goal that Benn has scored 100 times before. He made it look easy.

But, as will happen in these games, the Canucks scored 90 seconds later. Bo Horvat broke free off a mishandled puck by Fedun, and the Canucks drew within one in the second period. It was a test, a crucible of sorts. Would Dallas crumble, like it did in the first nine games? Or would it push through, as it has done countless times lately?

Fedun scored two minutes later to restore the two-goal lead and redeem himself -- and then the top line took care of the rest. Dowling, a 29-year-old career minor-leaguer, has drawn the top centering assignment in three of the past four games, and he's showing that he can handle the responsibility.

After capping a beautiful play on the goal that was disallowed, Dowling fed Miro Heiskanen for a huge goal 2:44 into the third period. Forty seconds later, he pushed the score to 5-1 to finish off a nice pass from Seguin, and the rout was on.

Video: VAN@DAL: Dowling chips rebound home from the doorstep

It was a chain reaction of positivity, with the confidence of one player rubbing off on another, and then on another after that. No more was the team gripping it sticks and playing not to lose. Now, it was attacking the net and hungering for goals.

"It's crazy how confidence plays into something like that," Fedun said. "It's hard to quantify, but I think you're seeing the results of that kind of thing out there right now."

The Stars are a different team than they were a month ago, the kind of team everyone envisioned before the season started.

"Wave after wave is the way we like to play, and right now we're playing that way, and we've just got to maintain this," Montgomery said. "We know the other side of it is not that much fun. There are a lot of teams that started off great that are now in that mode that we were in previously."

A mode that takes a lot of work to get out of.

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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