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December Becomes Month To Remember

by Bob Matuszak / Dallas Stars

This season marks the 10-year anniversary of the Dallas Stars first Stanley Cup championship. What follows is the third of seven installments that delves into that magical 1998-99 campaign, from training camp all the way to Brett Hull's Cup-clinching goal in triple-overtime in Game 6 in Buffalo.

There's No "L" In Dallas
On Dec. 6, the Stars rebounded from the debacle in Vancouver with a convincing 6-2 win at Edmonton. Playing without defenseman Shawn Chambers for the second consecutive game after he broke his finger in San Jose, Dallas erupted for five second-period goals.

Without Brett Hull, whose nagging groin injury was keeping him out of the lineup, the Stars got plenty of offense from Lehtinen. The 1998 Selke Trophy winner scored his second and third goals since returning, snapping a scoreless tie 19 seconds into the second period before potting his eighth of the year 14 minutes later.

Defensive-minded left wing Dave Reid also scored for the first time since Dec. 3, 1997 to help the Stars defeat Edmonton for the 17th time in 21 tries dating back to 1992.

"It shows the character of this team to come back after a loss and have a good effort," Belfour said. "It's a goal of ours to never lose two in a row."

The next night in Calgary the Stars continued their second-stanza barrage, scoring three times in the middle frame en route to a 3-2 win over the Flames. The 35-year-old Skrudland scored for the second straight game, and Roman Turek got the start and the win in relief of Belfour.

Back home in Dallas on Dec. 11, the Stars welcomed Montreal to Reunion Arena, with Carbonneau picking up an assist in a 3-2 win over his old team. The suddenly streaking offensive machine Reid also collected his second goal of the year, and Jamie Langenbrunner scored the winner with 2:49 left in regulation.

It was Langenbrunner's 12th point in the last 11 games, and Dallas' first win over Montreal at Reunion since March 6, 1993. The win also gave the Stars a 4-1-1 mark 11 days into December, as they leapfrogged Phoenix and into first place in the Pacific with 36 points, tops in the Western Conference.

After tying Chicago two days later, the Stars steamrolled over St. Louis 7-3. Not coincidentally, it was Hulls' first game back after missing the last six, and he blitzed his former team with a pair of goals.

Brett Hull and Craig Ludwig
"Hullie was excited to play," center Mike Modano said. "I know it has been tough for him to sit out and just ride the exercise bike."

Hull may have been off the bike, but the Stars were starting to peddle as fast as they could go.

December Becomes Month To Remember
After the Blues rout, Dallas won six of its next seven, with a 2-2 tie against the Canadiens on Dec. 21 the only blemish.

Included in the stretch was perhaps their best win of the young season, a 3-1 dismantling of the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. Dallas won for the third straight time over the Red Wings this season, and held them scoreless until Slava Kozlov spoiled Belfour's shutout bid with just two minutes to go.

"They're the team to beat," forward Mike Keane said. "We just try and work hard every night. We're happy we won but we're not wearing our rings yet."

Two days before Christmas, Modano recorded his fifth career hat trick in a 5-1 rout over Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Stars three-goal, first-period spree helped extend the reeling Maple Leafs' unbeaten string to 10 games, while Dallas improved to 7-0-3 in its last 10.

"We've been playing some really good hockey, unbeaten in 10," Hull said. "We're a solid
hockey team and I think it's credit to our success the way we keep shots down and the way we play defense. And then you've got Mike Modano and Joe Nieuwendyk leading the charge the other way."

On Dec. 29, Belfour notched his third blanking of the season in a 1-0 win over the Nashville Predators. The game was classic Hitchcock, as Dallas limited the expansion Predators to a mere 14 shots on goal. Chambers, back from his injury, scored the game's lone goal in the second period thanks to an assist by Carbonneau.

"It was one of those things where the puck was just laying there and I just tipped it in," Chambers said. "Carbonneau made a great pass on the play. Right now we're all contributing. If it's not me scoring, maybe it's Luddy (defenseman Craig Ludwig) who will get the next one…well, maybe not."

Shawn Chambers and Craig Ludwig
Two days later, it happened as Chambers somewhat predicted, with Ludwig putting one home in the trouncing of the Bruins on New Year's Eve.

With the team rolling as 1998 drew to a close, one couldn't help but think about the shiny finger jewelry Keane spoke of following that big win in Detroit. After all, Dallas had just set a franchise record for wins in a month with 11 (11-1-3), and broken a 16-year team unbeaten streak mark by not losing in 13 straight games (10-0-3).

"The 13-game unbeaten streak doesn't mean a whole lot to us," defenseman Darryl Sydor said. "Our goal is not to get too high or too low but to play within our game plan, and that's exactly what we're doing right now. We've been able to get excellent goaltending, we played extremely well on a tough road stretch and we've maintained our game plan consistently."

At 23-5-6, Dallas was surging heading into the final year of the 20th century. And with everyone healthy except for Skrudland (back), the Stars celebrated New Years on a plane that headed to the desert for a Jan. 1 showdown with the Phoenix Coyotes. 

NEXT: The Little Ball of Hate rolls along, and the Stars hit a mid-month slump.

Author: Bob Matuszak

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