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Looking At The Bright Side

by J. Douglas Foster / Dallas Stars

There’s two ways to look at the Stars’ just completed west coast road trip.

The pessimist would contend that by seeing a one-goal lead escape in the third period in San Jose, followed three days later by a shootout loss in Anaheim, the Stars had an unsuccessful road trip, losing two out of three.

Technically, they would be right. But it’s a shortsighted way to evaluate the trip, one in which the Stars earned four of six possible points.

Sure, the Stars lost two of the three games on the trip. But you really have to look at the bigger picture to truly evaluate the events of the past four days. And when you do, you’ll see a few things worth noting.

For starters, the Stars proved in San Jose – as they have often before – that despite appearances, they are still a worthy competitor when matched up against any Western Conference squad.

Let’s be honest: Dallas didn’t exactly go into this road trip on a positive note The Stars had lost six of seven going into the Bay Area, having scratched out just one third-period goal over the previous eight games. To make matters seemingly worse, they would be taking on a Sharks team that has been, without a doubt, the best team in the NHL over the past month plus. San Jose was 14-0-2 entering the Pacific Division showdown with Dallas, having not lost a regulation game to a Western Conference team since Valentine’s Day.

Yep. The Sharks were hot. As hot as a team can possibly be. And Dallas was not. Formula for a blowout, right?

Not exactly.

Dallas proved on Thursday that despite hot streaks, cold streaks, perception or public opinion, they can still play with anyone. In fact, before a third-period goal by Joe Thornton, the Stars had the league’s best team over the past month on the ropes – in their own building. Considering the way the previous three weeks have gone, that’s certainly a good sign.

In fact, it’s a very good sign. That’s why, despite the overtime winner from Thornton in a 5-on-3 situation, there is a gleam of hope to be taken from that loss.

You just have to be willing to look at those positives.

The biggest of positives over the week, however, came Sunday night in Anaheim. Because on that night, the potential first-round playoff opponent Ducks – and defending Stanley Cup champions – became a likely first-round playoff opponent. You have to get in the playoffs to actually have an opponent, after all, and by reaching overtime and securing a point, the Stars guaranteed they would be back in the postseason yet again.

That is, for all intents and purposes, the initial goal of any season. You can’t win a Stanley Cup until you actually get into the playoffs, and it may seem simple, but guaranteeing that you’ll be playing in the postseason is the first step towards a memorable season.

Maybe it seems like a forgone conclusion because of the Stars’ recent history. After all, it’s the 12th time in 14 seasons in Dallas the Stars have earned themselves a spot in the postseason. That could have spoiled us all.

But it shouldn’t. Consider that the only team with more playoff appearances than the Stars since they arrived in Dallas prior to the 1993-94 season is the Detroit Red Wings, who secured their 14th this season, and that the New Jersey Devils will make it 13 when they get in this season, and you have to realize that we’ve had a pretty special run of hockey here in Texas for quite some time.

And if the Stars do wind up in either fourth or fifth – and take on the Ducks – don’t just assume that because Anaheim won the Cup last season they’ll walk right over the Stars in round one.

All season Dallas proved capable of playing with Anaheim, winning five of the eight head-to-head contests in the regular season. Obviously that’s no guarantee of playoff success – considering the Stars were 3-1-1 against the Ducks in 2002-03 before losing to Anaheim in a six-game playoff series – but it’s certainly a more positive mindset than having to go into a playoff series having lost five of eight to the opponent.

Positive mindsets are, you see, necessary if you expect to have any playoff success as a team. So as a fan, if you truly want to see your Stars succeed in the postseason, it might be time to look at the bright side of their current situation.

Besides, there’s enough bad news on television every day. Britney’s troubles alone have given us all serious cause for concern. No need to make hockey a cause of undue stress as well.
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