On Saturday night the Stars finished a grueling stretch of hockey. They played their ninth game in a two-week span. Their opponent that night was statistically the best team in the NHL. They were also the hottest. The Washington Capitals strolled into Dallas on a 12-game point streak. Over those dozen games, the Caps had obliterated the competition. They outscored opponents 55-23. They had scored five or more goals in five straight games. They had allowed one or zero goals in seven games during the streak. They weren't just winning. They were dominating.
Despite playing nine games in seven cities over 15 nights, the Stars were ready to go. Dallas shrugged off an early goal against and controlled the tempo pretty much from the outset. They carried the game. They were fast. They were physical. They controlled the possession numbers. They were outshooting the ridiculously hot Capitals by a two-to-one ratio. They had a 3-1 lead at second intermission. Once again it was a lopsided Caps game, only this time the opponent had the upper hand.
Lindy Ruff would later call the game - from an engagement and battling standpoint - among the best the Stars have played all season. Dallas was in control by every metric available, including the eyeball test.
Then came the third period.
Two penalties 94 seconds apart. Two goals two minutes and eight seconds apart. In the blink of an eye, 40 minutes of domination against the league's best had been erased. Another blink and 19 seconds of overtime later, the Stars were left trying to pick up the pieces of a game that somehow fell apart. The loss was the latest in what's become a long line of stinging defeats for this year's Stars.
For 48 games the up-and-down season has been exactly that. Up, then down. The inconsistency - both from game to game, as well as within games - has been maddening. The Stars score seven one game, then get shut out in the next. They go from a perfect seven-for-seven penalty kill to allowing goals on the only two power plays they face. They get an all-world goaltending performance on a night when the offense is blanked. Then they score three in a one-goal loss where the goaltender would like to have one or two back. It has been the story of the year.
The one step forward, one step back tap dance has led to a record hovering around .500 all season. That's right where the Stars are entering the final week before the All-Star Break.
All losses are frustrating, but for different reasons. When you simply don't have the tools to win on a consistent basis, the ill feeling has more to do with your predicament than your performance. When you do have the pieces but don't produce, that frustration comes from not capitalizing on your potential. That can be even more frustrating because you see the finish line most nights. You just can't cross it. It's tantalizing.
That has been the case for Dallas far too many times this season. There is often a paper thin line between winning and losing, but the Stars are learning just how deep it can cut.
The Stars have gone to overtime 11 times, but lost nine of those games. Their 2-9 OT mark is the worst in the NHL. If you stretch back further to late in regulation, there have been similarly crushing results.
This year the Stars have entered the final ten minutes of regulation with the score tied eight different times. In those eight games, Dallas has just one victory. Saturday's loss to Washington was the most recent defeat. It probably goes without saying, that situational record also ranks near the bottom of the NHL. By comparison last year it happened 20 times and the Stars won 17.
If you feel like you've heard the team lament "leaving points on the table" regularly this season it's because they have. If they had simply played .500 hockey in these coin flip situations, they wouldn't just be in a playoff spot, they'd be in the top three of the Central Division.
But they didn't. Too often this year Dallas has found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Again adding to the frustration is that it seems to be a different culprit on different nights.
However, here's the catch. The pain of losing that many up-for-grabs games can only come from being in them in the first place. The frustration of being inconsistent only applies if you are first able to showcase the ability to perform. If you've been a Stars fan for the last decade you know the difference between not running at the speed of which you're capable, and just not having the horses to hit that speed. While the former may be more gnawing, it's also not necessarily as permanent.
That's not to suggest that flipping a switch is easy. It's not. It's also not proclaiming that it's inevitable. The archives are littered with teams who underperformed for too long and were never able to steer themselves back on track. The Stars are running out of time before they fall into that category.
But they're not there yet. When they hit the ice on Tuesday, Dallas does so a mere four points out of a playoff spot. Whatever winding, turbulent ride got them here, this is where they are. Eleven weeks and 34 games remain for the Stars to make up a couple of wins. At times this season they have looked more than capable of pulling that off. Other times that seems like an uphill climb.
As they prepare for the stretch run of the season - and an even shorter run to March's trade deadline, which brings with it huge decisions based on where they are at the time - the question is which Stars team will we see? Somewhere in the locker room is the team who played the first 40 minutes against Washington. So is the one who played the last 20. One of those teams has a future beyond 82 games. The other does not.
While it remains to be determined which one prevails, one thing is certain. A continued case of split personality will not be enough.
Josh Bogorad is the Studio Host on Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on 'Stars Live' and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.