Skip to main content
The Official Site of the Dallas Stars

How Stars turned 'worst game of year' into emotional first win

Dallas rebounds from sour start to stun the Capitals in overtime, ending its three-game skid in dramatic fashion

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Emotion is a tricky skill.

While you try to polish your skating, your stickwork, your shot -- and you see quantifiable improvements -- it's a little tougher telling how you are handling the mental challenges of the game of hockey.

 

[WATCH: All Stars vs. Capitals highlights]

 

Teams that do it well have an advantage, so it definitely is a skill. But how do you find a way to repeat the good emotion and eliminate the bad emotion? How do you get a team on the same page and keep them there?

The 2019-20 Stars certainly aren't experts on consistency. They've been all over the map in many performance variable, and Tuesday's 4-3 overtime win over the Washington Capitals was maybe the most confusing game of all. But if you want to really dig deep, you can find things that are well worth studying.

Video: DAL@WSH: Seguin pots Radulov's feed for OT winner

"It's funny how games work," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery. "That was our worst game of the year, and we got a result. It was good to get the result."

Winning is paramount in a high-dollar business that demands results, so getting a win to move to 1-3-0 to start the season was critical. But as much as the game was very bad at times from the Stars' point of view, it didn't end badly -- and that might mean it wasn't the worst game of the year.

But let's start at the beginning to get the full story.

After an off-day in Washington, D.C. Monday, the Stars had a team dinner. It was "emotional," Montgomery said, and you could read between the lines that the team definitely dug into why they have started the year slowly when everyone has such high expectations for them.

Video: Stars pick up first win of season in Washington

Then, after that motivational night and a very upbeat morning skate where the coaches were working one-on-one with players and the everyone seemed to be in a good place, the team stunk in the first period. Not just stunk, but was embarrassing -- frustratingly bad at a time when they were supposed to be coming together and showing their potential.

It was awful.

"We were putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to get out of this," said Tyler Seguin, one of the team's alternate captains. "It's been tense times."

Still, goalie Ben Bishop kept them in it despite being outshot 14-5 in the first period, and that opened the door for Roope Hintz to break into open ice and score his fourth goal in four games during the second period.

Video: DAL@WSH: Radulov whacks rebound home from slot

Hintz, 22, is the biggest highlight of the young season, as the Stars are finding out they might have one of the best young players in the league. When that player is a fast, strong, second line center, it can change everything. It can make this team so much tougher to defend, and Hintz is showing no sign of slowing down.

Of course, that second-line center is most effective when he has a first line to take away the attention of the opposing team. The Stars have that line in Jamie Benn, Seguin and Alexander Radulov, but they haven't gone to them much this season. On Tuesday, Montgomery tossed out his top line and stuck with it, and by the end of the game, that proved to be a great decision.

Benn, Seguin and Radulov had combined for one point in the first three games, and didn't look good doing it, so putting them together and putting expectations on them was a gamble. It turned out to be a good one.

After a little bit better second period, the Stars were trailing 2-1 going into the second intermission, and Montgomery told Benn that this was on the players.

Video: Persistence pays off for Seguin, Stars in OT win

"At the bench, I turned to Jamie Benn and told him: 'The coaches aren't going in, this is your locker room. If we're going to do something, you've got to will these guys out of this.' "

There were emotional talks, and the Stars came out and dominated the third period. Dallas had an 11-0 advantage in shots on goal to start the period and tied things up on a Radulov rebound at 7:53. Then, rookie Nick Caamano drove the net and made a beautiful play off a pass from Andrew Cogliano to give the Stars the lead at the 12:03 mark.

It was the best of both worlds.

Not only had the top players made a difference, but also a rookie in his third NHL game. There was a feeling that maybe all of this talk of off-season improvement might actually be right.

Video: DAL@WSH: Caamano backhands home first NHL goal

"It was a blast. The best part of the night," said Seguin of watching Caamano score.

While Montgomery added that Caamano and fellow rookie Rhett Gardner have been showing they belong in the NHL while playing on a line with Cogliano. On Tuesday, they averaged about 12 minutes each and put four shots on net as a line.

"I think him and Gardner are both growing," Montgomery said, "They don't look like guys who have played three games. Every game, they have had an impact for us in a positive direction."

They are handling the emotion well, they are channeling their energy like veterans, they are showing the others what to do.

Video: Razor recaps thrilling OT win in Washington

And the others are catching up.

After Washington scored with the goalie pulled to tie the game in the final minute, Dallas' best players stepped up in overtime. Radulov breezed up the left wing and fed Seguin rushing to the right post, and the Stars had the game-winning goal 43 seconds into OT.

 

[PHOTOS: Scenes from Stars' first win of season in Washington]

 

Radulov finished with a goal and an assist. Seguin finished with a goal and an assist.They also allowed themselves the ability to breathe a little -- to remember that the game of emotion can include fun.

"When we're together, we know we've got to go and we've got to lead," Seguin said of the feeling the top line embraces. "I think we still have some work to do. But winning that game and feeling we still have a lot left in us, the sky is the limit."

Video: DAL@WSH: Hintz fires wrist shot past Holtby

And that goes for the team, as well.

There are 78 games remaining and a ton of challenges in just the coming week, but the Stars showed they can indeed handle the high pressure and the emotion of being a team that carries some lofty expectations.

For one night -- or just a part of one night -- they proved something to themselves.

"We can build off the fact that we can't play that poorly to start a game. That's what we have to build off," Montgomery said of a hard lesson learned. "And then that third period, that emotion that we had with everybody contributing, that's the positive we have to build off 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.

View More