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As Stars navigate exhaustive stretch, give them credit -- not chirps

Banged up and at the mercy of an incredibly tough schedule, Dallas deserves kudos for what it has overcome this season

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

My friend in Michigan watched the national telecast of the Stars game with Carolina Sunday, so of course I received a few text messages throughout the contest.

"They don't look sharp at all."

"They're not passing to anybody, just throwing it off the boards."

"They just don't look like they want it enough."

I can see how that's the perception. You watch the Stars for the first time in a while and they look like they're in survival mode. That's because on Sunday -- they were.

Video: Razor: Oettinger gives Stars chance to win at Canes

Dallas was playing its third game in four nights for the fifth straight weekend. That's right, the eight games that were postponed by a COVID outbreak to start the season and a winter storm in February have caught up to the Stars, so they are playing the heaviest schedule in the NHL for the remainder of the season. Even now, they still are three games behind the teams they are chasing and have to make that up with a relentless march of confrontations that have both far-reaching and short-term factors weaved in.

On Sunday, the Stars had just come off a big 3-2 win against a very good Carolina team that had lost in regulation on home ice only once previously. You could say the Hurricanes were fired up and wanted revenge. So Carolina came out battling, and the Stars were on their heels, and fans across the nation (and sitting at home in Michigan) had opinions on what they saw.

But I gave my friend a little perspective, and it did seem to change his point of view just a little.

The Stars are already without Tyler Seguin (hip) and Ben Bishop (knee) who have had off-season surgeries and are hoping to return to play in the next few weeks. They were without Alexander Radulov, who will likely have to have surgery when the season is over and still is rehabbing in Frisco with the hope of returning soon. They were without Jason Dickinson and Radek Faksa and Joel Hanley, injured in recent games.

It's quite a list.

Tweet from @DallasStars: "Rick has no symptoms at all. He's been vaccinated, he has no symptoms, and we're very comfortable in presuming this is a false positive."@PNCBank | #GoStars https://t.co/ERY7G5TqF9

Then, Anton Khudobin had a false positive COVID test on Saturday morning, so that took him out of the lineup. And if things couldn't get any stranger, coach Rick Bowness had a positive result on his COVD test Sunday and had to be removed at the second intermission and sent to the hotel to quarantine.

Even my friend felt bad for the Stars … and he's a Red Wings fan.

So when the game was over and Dallas fought to the end in a 1-0 loss, there was a bit of respect for the effort. Watching from the couch in Texas, it sure looked like a game Dallas could have lost 5-0. Rookie goalie Jake Oettinger was outstanding and held the Stars in it with another impressive outing in net. But the team fed off Oettinger's energy and made a solid push in the third period.

The shots on goal were 12-9 in the third in favor of Dallas, and the Stars had 10 quality scoring chances in the final 20 minutes. They almost tied the game, which would have been quite a feat.

"We're obviously not happy with the result, but we kept it 1-0," said defenseman John Klingberg. "We gave it all until the end, so I'm proud of the boys."

Video: Klingberg on 'weird times' in loss to Hurricanes

He should be. There are such things as moral victories in the span of a season, and this was one for the Stars. They didn't give up, and that's a great character trait.

Of course, that trait has been built up over the past two seasons. They started 1-7-1 last season and rebounded. Their head coach was dismissed, and they rebounded. The season was stopped because of COVID, and they came back in the bubble and made it to the Stanley Cup Final. They have great individual stories of finding a groove in players like Khudobin, and Jason Robertson, and Joe Pavelski. They have gutty battles against pain in players like Roope Hintz, and Faksa, and Dickinson. They have tough displays of leadership in players like Jamie Benn, and John Klingberg, and Blake Comeau.

There is a lot to like there.

Now, it's fair to question whether they can fight through this. They're banged up, they're physically and mentally tired, and they're not getting any breaks any time soon. Their final 20 games will be played over 35 days.

"When you saw this schedule, you knew this was coming," Bowness said of the injury problems. "Everyone on that taxi squad is going to play, and we've got to keep them ready. The coaches have done a great job of keeping all of these guys involved mentally and involved physically."

Video: Benn: 'We're just going to keep pushing forward'

Dallas had a practice in Nashville on Wednesday and then won 4-1 on Thursday. It was one of the few practices this team has had in weeks.

"When we did have that practice time, it was crucial that we took full advantage of it, and I think it showed itself on Thursday," Bowness said. "We were skating better, we were moving the puck better, we weren't as sloppy. So that practice time is huge."

On Sunday, they were sloppy, and the lack of practice time could be a reason for that. That's scary when you realize there won't be much practice time remaining before the end of the season.

Now, I know, that sure sounds like excuses. Everyone has injuries, everyone has a tough schedule, everyone has problems. Deal with it.

The Stars are trying -- and Sunday's game is a reminder of that.

Video: DAL Recap: Oettinger stops 37 of 38 shots in 1-0 loss

It wasn't a win, they didn't get the points, it's frustrating.

Yep.

But just at least recognize some of the positives and try to imagine that they could be helpful down the stretch. The Stars sure seem to be just as good as Nashville or Chicago or Columbus. The team that makes it out of those four will have earned their place in the playoffs. If the Stars fail, they have to own that they didn't earn it.

But if they do get through this meatgrinder, if they do get Seguin and Bishop back, if they do find a way to make the playoffs and still have a modicum of health remaining, then that first-round series could be fun.

At the very least, they will have made a statement to the entire league that they will battle through anything.

And that has some value to it.

 

Stars at Blackhawks

Tuesday, 7 p.m. CT

United Center, Chicago

TV: Bally Sports Southwest Plus

Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM

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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