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Montgomery's plan for Stars coming together at right time

Formulated last summer, the philosophy of the first-year coach is proving helpful as postseason pressure increases

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When we sat down in the summer before he even coached in one practice, Stars coach Jim Montgomery laid out his philosophy, and it was indeed intriguing.

Montgomery said he wanted everyone to offer ideas -- from the assistant coaches to the players to the video staff -- but that the ultimate decision was his. He said he wanted to be surrounded by smart people, smarter than himself even, but that in the end one person had to have the final say.

"I know that if we're only relying on my ideas, we'll become predictable and we simply won't be the best team we can be," Montgomery said before the season. "I respect other people's ideas and I want to use the best ideas. I want to be the best team, and I think you need to look outside of yourself to do that."

 

[PERFECT 10: Unblemished penalty kill a major boon for Stars entering tough Game 5]

 

It made sense, in theory. But as we get ready for Game 5 of this first-round playoff series in Nashville (2 p.m. CT; NBC; KTCK 1310-AM, 96.7-FM), it's the backbone of what this team has been able to accomplish. And it's one of the reasons Montgomery has been so calm throughout this process.

He knows he's not alone.

"I'm like a baby learning how to walk right now, and every part of it is exciting," Montgomery said. "The downs have been like, 'OK, how do we get better.' The ups have been, 'Let's keep getting better.' I feel we continue to get better in this series, which is a good feeling for all of us."

Video: Stars coming into Game 5 with positive mindset

Montgomery has compared this year to his first season coaching college hockey. He said he knew he would get better -- and his team would get better -- as the season went along. He knew that he and the players would get on the same page. He knew that what he wanted to do would eventually work.

That's given him comfort this season, because he can go back and look at what happened at the University of Denver, and see similarities.

All of that said, this is different. He is interacting with a diverse and experienced coaching staff, with players who range in age from 19 to 35, with the demands of professional sports. This is, after all, a multi-million dollar business, and there are multi-million dollar demands.

They call it the big leagues for a reason. And there are 30 other teams trying to do the same thing you're doing -- 30 teams trying to find the best players and best coaches in the world.

And he seems to be just fine with all of that.

The Stars after Game 3 could have easily buckled. The Predators played 35 playoff games in the previous two seasons, the Stars none. The Predators are in their fifth season under veteran Peter Laviolette (who won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006) and have won the Central Division two years in a row. The Stars are in their first under Montgomery and made it in as a wild-card team.

Video: Montgomery says it's 'nice to get series back even'

With the fear of going down 3-1 in this series, Dallas could have felt the pressure. Instead, it came out and played its best hockey and dominated in a 5-1 win. The lowest-scoring first-period team in the NHL tallied four times in the opening 20 minutes Wednesday. A team struggling with the power play broke through with three man-advantage goals.

You were there, you saw it. It was impressive.

And yet as soon as the game was over (maybe before), Montgomery was getting ready for Game 5. With the calm of a veteran, he said while the team can build on what it did, what it learned, it also has to understand that game was over.

Asked if the confidence of scoring could help the team going forward, Montgomery matter-of-factly said: "That's never held true for our team."

Whoa. That's a pretty strong statement. Yes, we are happy we found some solutions, but let's not go too far. We were 28th in the league in scoring, so we're probably not going to start scoring five a night.

That's a pretty mature way of looking at things. The key wasn't putting the puck in the net so much, it was playing the right way. That's what led to the six power-play opportunities, that's what led to the rink being tilted.

Video: NSH@DAL, Gm4: Stars strike early with four goals

"We've got to get back to playing to our identity and we did that tonight," Montgomery said, pointing out that the power play has been a positive contributor all season. "We have to maintain our focus playing to our identity. ... That's what gives us success."

The Stars on Saturday will walk into a revved-up building and will have to be ready to compete with the hungry Predators from the opening drop. They've had trouble wading into games in the past, but if they can come out of the first period tied, that will be playing to their identity.

Yes, Game 4 probably gave Jim Montgomery confidence, but the rest of the season has taught him so much more. He has built on lessons that have come from so many people -- his dad, his college coaches, his pro coaches, his players. He has listened as much as he has talked.

After getting stopped on 10 straight power plays in Games 2 and 3, Montgomery, the coaches and the players got together and had a good talk. They came out and scored three man-advantage goals in Game 4.

"We've had a lot of healthy discussion with player feedback," Montgomery said at the time. "We got their input, because ultimately they are the ones who have to do things, and we want them to have ownership.It's a big part of how our staff works with our players."

And just how the coach envisioned all of this way back in the summer.

For complete postseason coverage, visit Stars Playoff Central.

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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