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Here's to you: Regular-season finale worth wait for loyal Stars fans

In dominant fashion, Dallas makes a statement about what it can do when the postseason begins

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

I like to write to the fans -- or with the fans … or for the fans.

Let's just say I've got you on my mind when I'm tickling the polyurethane keys of this laptop piano of mine.

That's never been more evident than after Saturday's 3-0 win over the Minnesota Wild. It was Fan Appreciation Night at American Airlines Center and the Stars celebrated their return to the playoffs with a dominating performance that netted a first-round meeting with the Nashville Predators.

How fun is that? After a 6-1 loss that caused you all sorts of doubt in Chicago on Friday, the Stars came home and calmed your fears. It was perfect, really.

Not only did Dallas clinch the first wild-card playoff spot and the chance to stay in the Central Division round of the playoff bracket, it made a statement about what it can do when the postseason begins.

Video: Montgomery looking forward to home playoff games

"I think we played to our identity. We possessed the puck a lot and created a lot of good chances," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery. "The fun begins now."

Indeed it does, and especially for the fans.

There's a lot to like about the Stars organization. They have one of the best arena presentation groups in the NHL. They have one of the best telecasts in the NHL. The marketing and sales department had AAC filled to 98.1 percent capacity this season.

That's impressive when you consider this team missed the playoffs the previous two seasons and plays in a Sunbelt City with the three other major pro sports teams.

You can quibble over whether every seat is filled or if fans arrive late or leave early, but I visit all of the arenas in the NHL, and American Airlines Center is pretty filled with bodies every game. It has a unique vibe, and you fans should be proud of the environment you create.

Video: MIN@DAL: Radulov collects 300th point on Seguin's PPG

It's taken a lot of patience on your part, and that's sort of appropriate for this team. The 2018-19 Stars are a methodical group. They rank second in goals against and 28th in scoring. That means there are a lot of low-scoring games, and that can be interpreted as boring. But it also can be seen as a delicious walk on a highwire.

Saturday was that way. The Stars really wanted this game, and you could tell in their skating and their "compete" level that they were serious. So when they strafed Minnesota goalie Alex Stalock with 14 shots in the first period and 20 more in the second, you probably were getting a bit nervous with the 0-0 score and whether or not this team could find the back of the net.

And then when a fluky shot slipped past Ben Bishop with 18 seconds left in the second period, you figured your fears and doubts were well-founded.

But that's why the events of the evening were poetic. Video coach Kelly Forbes spotted the Wild were offside on their goal, and Montgomery challenged the play. The Stars went into the break at 0-0, and Forbes had another win in the challenge basket.

Then, 2:44 into the third period, Alexander Radulov made a great pass to Tyler Seguin on the power play and the Stars' leading scorer blasted a one-timer home for the go-ahead goal. Six minutes later, Seguin added his second of the game and 33rd of the season. Three minutes after that, Tyler Pitlick cleaned up a Roope Hintz rebound, and the win was secured.

Video: Bishop discusses return, looks ahead to postseason

It was a great display of what the Stars have become.

Ben Bishop earned his seventh shutout of the season, Seguin, Radulov, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg provided the scoring on the first two big goals. And the depth scoring added a little icing to the cake.

Meanwhile, all of the Stars had their sticks in the passing lanes and defended with tenacity. They won puck battles, they kept the Wild from gaining any momentum, they helped Bishop immensely.

At the end of the night, Dallas had a 44-24 advantage in shots on goal, a 32-24 (57 percent) advantage in faceoffs, a 1-0 advantage in special teams play.

It was textbook Stars hockey. It was playing to the identity we hear so much about.

Video: MIN@DAL: Seguin slips backhander past Stalock

"I thought our last three to five games have been good tune-ups," said Seguin. "We've been playing that style for a while. We just need patience in games."

They seem to have found that element -- maybe they took a cue from the fans.

Of course, now both the team and the fans will get to test themselves at a whole new level. The playoffs can send you to the moon or break your heart. We saw that the last time Dallas ventured into the postseason. They stole Game 6 in St. Louis and then crashed and burned in Game 7 on home ice. It was a tough experience.

But one that probably made the fans tougher -- made them more appreciative of every opportunity to watch this stuff.

"You could sense it, they were loud and the energy was great," Montgomery said. "I can't wait until we have our first home game after the two games in Nashville. It's going to be a zoo here."

Video: MIN@DAL: Pitlick buries rebound to extend lead

When the game was over Saturday, a jersey-less Seguin was firing a T-shirt cannon into the stands while the SpongeBob homage of "Sweet Victory" blasted on the speakers. It was how we do hockey here in Dallas. It was a perfect ending for all of those who live in Victory Green.

And there's a chance now it can get even better.

And that's something I know you guys have been waiting for.

"They're excited," Seguin said. "We owe them a lot."

I've always thought so.

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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