Matt Duchene’s career path has been so jagged, it actually kind of hurt at times.

But on Friday, the veteran forward took those angular pieces and fit them together into the perfect puzzle.

Duchene, who was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche, spent eight seasons there, played in just eight playoff games in that span and eventually asked for a trade, fit a decade of ups and downs into one game, and walked out of Ball Arena just a bit reborn. Showing impressive resilience, Duchene scored in the second overtime of Game 6, forging a 2-1 win and ending the Second Round series in six games. He will now advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time and will do so thanks to some pretty serious scar tissue.

“This is only the second time I’ve been past the first round in my career. Now we’re going to the conference finals,” he said. “At 33, I think there’s a certain level of appreciation that you have that you wouldn’t have had as a young player.”

Oettinger and Duchene on advancing to WCF finals

Duchene’s story could make a pretty good Hallmark movie. He was drafted third overall by the Avalanche in 2009 and was heralded as the future star of an organization with a proud history. And while he had statistical success, the winning just didn’t come. In 2017 he requested a trade and was sent to the Ottawa Senators. The Ontario native had some success there but continued to miss the playoffs. That led to a trade to Columbus and Duchene’s best run in the postseason, but he eventually landed in Nashville, where he signed a seven-year free agent contract that averaged $8 million per season, and it seemed like he had finally found his home.

Duchene tallied a career-best 86 points in 2021-22 and looked like the perfect fit for the Predators. What’s more, the amateur guitarist loved the vibe in Music City and seemed to have finally found the fit he was seeking. So it rocked his world last summer when the Predators changed management and did some house cleaning. Duchene had the final three years of his contract bought out, and he became an unrestricted free agent. Nashville literally paid him to go away, and that was maybe the hardest punch he has taken.

But the Stars were quickly on the phone with his agent, and the two sides decided on a one-year deal for $3 million. It was an opportunity, and Duchene said at the time he simply wanted to find a place where he could win. Right now, the reality might actually be better than the dream - and Friday was a great reminder of that.

Matt Duchene meets the media upon arriving in Dallas

Yes, the Stars are just two rounds deep and have a long way to go before they can reach their ultimate goal, but it sure feels special.

“When I had the opportunity to sign here, it was one I jumped at. Obviously I didn’t expect to be in that position, but God works in mysterious ways,” Duchene said. “From the time I signed here, I’ve just been grateful and I’ve been looking forward to these opportunities. My teammates and the coaches have been just amazing, welcoming me in and helping me get acclimated early.”

The Stars’ moto this season is “A little less, for a lot more,” and it fits Duchene to a T. Like the other veterans, he has taken a diminished role, seeing his minutes reduced while working with the second power play unit. But that philosophy means that everyone has more legs and everyone shares in the burden. The man who has felt the heavy shoulders of the occasional scoring slump now has the ability to weather things with the help of his teammates.

Duchene had a great year with 65 points (25 goals, 40 assists) in 80 games. But he slumped late in the regular season and he struggled early in the playoffs.

And it showed.

“I’m really happy for Dutchy,” said Stars coach Pete DeBoer. “He's ridden the confidence roller coaster here the second half and in the playoffs; really some high highs and some low lows, and it was probably about as low as he could be after Game 5. And again, that's why our group is special. I thought they rallied around him, and he was maybe our best player tonight. So that's what teams do for each other.”

In fact, Duchene had his problems in Game 6, as well. He was in the penalty box when Colorado scored its only goal, and he was called for goaltender interference when Mason Marchment appeared to win the game in the first overtime.

So how does the individual, and the team, overcome that?

“I think you just stay with it,” Duchene said. “Obviously, it can be a little tough to reset after you think it’s over and hope it’s over and then it’s kind of a gut-punch, but that’s kind of what we do. Everyone just reset and kept going, and we had another few chances in the first OT and obviously got it done in double.”

The forward depth played a big role in the Game 6 win, as Colorado started to wear down and Dallas got stronger in overtime. That’s something Duchene said not only is a great strategic advantage, but also builds emotional strength in the group.

“I looked at the monitor beside the bench and looked at the minutes, and our top forwards were 10 minutes less than their top forwards,” Duchene said. “I remember yelling down the bench halfway through the first OT, 'The longer this goes, the more it benefits us.' That’s our strength, and it’s been our strength since day one. That’s the way this team is built, but it doesn’t work if guys don’t buy in. Guys have had to take lesser roles at times. When guys are hot, they play more and get more opportunities. When guys are cold, they have to take a little bit of a back seat and be more of a supporting character and a good teammate. Every single guy has done that this year. It’s adding up to success.”

And adding up to a pretty special season in a pretty challenging career. Duchene doesn’t mind analyzing his life and has said that he truly appreciates all that is going on right now – maybe to the point that he actually overthinks things and doesn’t just live in the moment.

“We’ve talked about it several times. You win a Game 7 against Vegas, and you played that game 100 times in your driveway and on your outdoor rink as a kid, and you get to do it for real,” he said of the appreciation he still has for that first-round win. “I’ve probably let it stress me out more than it’s been fun at times just because I want it so bad, but I’m starting to relax a little bit more, and it’s getting a lot more fun.”

There are some jagged edges so far in Duchene’s 15-year NHL run, but instead of pondering the cuts they can cause, he’s turning them into opportunities. When he scored the game-winner in his old building against his old team, Duchene slid on his knees, made a sign of a heart with his fingers and then punched a hole in it.

“I don’t even know. I blacked out,” he said of the celebration. “I have no idea, to be honest with you. It’s just elation.”

DAL@COL: Duchene scores goal against Alexandar Georgiev

Hard-earned elation.

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.

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