This Dallas Stars season has been a roller coaster of emotions. It has featured excitement, entertainment, frustration, and anger, to name a few. Sometimes all in the same period. Throughout the year there have been highs and lows, but last week seemed to illustrate perfectly what this Stars season has felt like. Dallas played three games, and in that time managed to take their fans down the scenic route of both the glory, and lack thereof, that this year has offered.
The week began on Tuesday against one of the top teams in the NHL - the New York Islanders. The Stars had to hang on through a first period that saw the Islanders come out firing. Despite the Stars getting over six minutes of power play time, Dallas yielded 18 first-period shots and the game's first goal. Kari Lehtonen played great, keeping Dallas within reach. After a scoreless second period, the Stars took control of the game in the third. Entering the frame down by a goal, the Stars quickly scored the game-tying goal. Then they added another. Saddled by a six-game winless skid heading into the game, the Stars were cruising towards what seemed like a sure victory when they cleared the puck with 15 seconds to play. But as fans were about to be harshly reminded, nothing is a sure thing this year.
With one final desperation rush, the Islanders entered the Dallas zone. With just two ticks left on the clock, New York forward Anders Lee threw a prayer from the left wing boards towards the net. It was the kind of attempt at which a Hail Mary would laugh. A harmless shot/pass/plea, with no Islanders player within a dozen feet of where the puck was headed. The kind of puck that sails safely wide of the net to end the game 999 out of 1,000 times.
But not on this night. Not during this season.
As if guided by a magnet drawn to cruelty, the puck found the heel of Jordie Benn's right skate and took a sharp left turn straight into the Stars net to tie the score with 1.7 seconds remaining on the clock. In a season that had seen just about every type of tough ending conceivable, the Stars found a new one. Yet, here's the kicker. Despite suffering the type of sucker punch that rivals any they had absorbed all season, the Stars actually won the game.
They shook off the bad bounce, got some help from a post in overtime, and 2:18 into extra time, Cody Eakin capped off a two-on-one pass from Jamie Benn to give the Stars the win.
Excitement, Frustration, Anger, Entertainment. Check, Check, Check, and Check. A roller coaster, indeed.
The season-long theme continued for the remainder of the week. The Stars travelled to Florida on Thursday for a date with the Panthers. They jumped out to a quick, two-goal lead, dominating a Panthers team that looked overmatched from the drop of the puck. Then, all of a sudden, the Stars found themselves on their heels, gave up three unanswered goals, and trailed 3-2 heading into the third period. The Stars made another U-turn in the third, holding the Panthers to two shots, tied the game, and eventually won in a shootout.
There was one final winding road awaiting in Tampa on Saturday. And alas, the Stars were reminded that not all bumpy rides have happy endings. Dallas played the inverse role from two nights earlier taking a 3-2 lead into the third period. Just over three minutes into the frame, the Stars lead was gone. Two minutes later they were trailing for good. Their modest two-game winning streak snapped in their latest third-period hiccup.
This week saw the kind of ups and downs that would make a seesaw queasy.
On Tuesday the Stars got Patrik Nemeth back in the lineup after a four and a half month absence. Less than two minutes into the same game, they lost Trevor Daley for 2-4 weeks to a knee injury.
Then on Saturday, star forward Tyler Seguin returned from a three-week injury. Star defenseman John Klingberg was hurt in the second period, left the game, and did not return.
The Stars got their shot at Dmitry Kulkiov when Curtis McKenzie fought him in the first period on Thursday. Then they watched him score a goal and add an assist - just his third multi-point game all season - as the Panthers took control of the game.
Kari Lehtonen was outstanding in the win against New York. He got pulled in the next game at Florida.
Jhonas Enroth was perfect in relief in Florida. He allowed four goals on 27 shots his next time out in Tampa.
The Stars won twice this week when trailing at second intermission. And lost the one game in which they led.
Dallas scored a late, extra-attacker goal against the Lightning. Only to have the empty-net goal they allowed 21 seconds earlier stand as the game-winner.
Yes, it was that kind of week, and has been that kind of year for the Stars. What else can you say about a team that is nine games over .500 when getting outshot, and ten games under .500 when they outshoot their opponents?
For every step forward, there seems to be a reciprocal step back. It's no coincidence that after the game against the Islanders, Lindy Ruff said that Jordie Benn, "played as well as he's played all year." And yet still, there he was, holding the short end of the stick with 1.7 seconds left.
Many of the Stars pitfalls this season have been self-inflicted. Others have been the end result of abnormalities you rarely see. Like Tuesday against New York.
Regardless of the reason, taking one step forward followed by one step back makes it pretty hard to catch up to anyone ahead of you. Dallas saw that again last week. The Stars entered the week nine points out of a playoff spot. They won two out of three games, but finished the week ten points out.
One forward, one back. And unfortunately, the Stars are running out of steps to take.
The Stars finish their five-game road trip this week with three more away games before returning home for a Sunday hosting of St. Louis. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar':
Back with a Bang
Tyler Seguin made an impressive return to the Stars lineup on Saturday night, scoring two goals in his first game back from a knee injury. Seguin was sidelined for 22 days and missed ten games. In spite of the absence, Seguin still leads the team with 31 goals, and his 61 points are just one behind Jamie Benn for the club lead. At the time of his injury, Seguin was tied for 3rd in NHL goals and 2nd in NHL points. He currently is tied for 7th in goal scoring and 11th in NHL points. Last year Seguin became just the second player in Dallas Stars history - along with Mike Modano - to register 35 goals and 80 points in the same season. Before getting injured, he was on pace to duplicate that feat this season. However, even with the setback, it is possible for Seguin to reach those numbers again. He would need four goals and 19 points with 16 games remaining in the season. Seguin has the second highest scoring average in the NHL this season, tallying 1.09 points per game. He would need to improve that number to 1.19 for the remainder of the season to reach 80 points.
The Stars have won two straight overtime/shootout games, and three of their last five. While that number might not seem like a big deal, prior to that stretch the Stars began the season with a dismal 2-8 record in games decided after regulation. This is the first time the Stars have won consecutive OT/shootout games since November of last season, when coincidentally they also came in consecutive games. The Stars swept a three-game road trip in Ottawa, Boston, and Detroit, winning all three in overtime or a shootout. Tuesday's home overtime win against the New York Islanders marked the first Stars post-regulation win on home ice this season. Going back further it was the Stars' first OT win at home since February 26, 2012 when the Stars beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-2, more than three years earlier. Mike Ribeiro scored the game-tying goal in the final minute to force OT, and Loui Eriksson score the game-winner 3:52 into the extra session.
This Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the last time the Stars started a goaltender other than Kari Lehtonen and won a game. That game was on March 11, 2014 when newly-acquired Tim Thomas backstopped a 3-2 overtime win in St. Louis, the day after Rich Peverley's cardiac event. Since that night, Thomas, Anders Lindback, Jussi Rynnas, and Jhonas Enroth have a combined 17 starts without a victory. Enroth earned his first win with the Stars on Tuesday in a relief appearance. All three wins by Stars backups this year have come in relief. Unless Enroth starts and wins in Philadelphia on Tuesday, the Stars will have gone over a full calendar-year without a starting win from their backup netminder.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for 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.