It was a game that featured just about everything. There were a dozen goals scored, including seven in the second period. The teams set a NHL record by scoring four goals in 49 seconds. The biggest players stepped up, as Jamie Benn had a three-point night, Tyler Seguin continued his goal-scoring streak, and Jaden Schwartz notched a hat trick. Travis Moen got his first ever penalty shot, and converted. Both teams had their share of controlling the run of play. The game was up for grabs right down to the final seconds. Through it all, the sellout crowd of 18,532 was taken on a highly-entertaining roller coaster ride of swings and emotions.
Of course it was the Game of the Week. It was a candidate for the Game of the Year. Games like that just don't happen in today's NHL. Unless, that is, you're the Dallas Stars. Then they do. Quite a few times, in fact.
You remember Friday's game because it was just days ago. But what about the 7-6 overtime thriller against Detroit in February? Or the 7-5 game against the New York Islanders early in the season. Those were incredibly entertaining, similar games.
Ok, now before you throw something at your screen, I know what you're thinking.
BUT THE STARS LOST ALL THOSE GAMES!!
Yes, they did. But, while those painful results may stay burned in your memory for longer than you'd like, the Stars have not lost every game like that this season.
There was the 6-5 shootout win at Edmonton in December. The 5-4 win over Los Angeles around Thanksgiving. Remember the 5-4 see-saw win over Washington in January? The Stars won all of those in dramatic fashion.
There are plenty more games like that. Some that went in the Stars favor, and others that didn't. The 6-5 overtime loss to Philadelphia in October. The 5-3 win at Boston in February. The 5-4 overtime loss to Minnesota in November. The back-and-forth 5-4 win against Ottawa in January. The box scores to all of those games read like suspense thrillers.
All told, the Stars have played 19 games this season where the winning team has scored at least five goals, and the final score ended as a one or two-goal margin. That's an incredible number. It amounts to almost one-quarter of the games they've played this season.
The Stars could make the 'Best Of' list almost every week. All season long.
If you were just a hockey fan and not a Stars fan, you would have watched this season and been absolutely riveted. Nonstop entertainment. Huge swings. Endless drama. Never knowing what you'll see next. If you remove your personal skin in the game, there has not been a more fun team to watch this season than the Stars. Hands down.
But there's the problem. If you're reading this, odds are you're not just a hockey fan. You are a Stars fan. And you do have skin in the game. So, as entertaining as the two-and-a-half hours leading up to the final buzzer might have been, it's never fun to finish on the short end of the scoreboard. And, unfortunately, the Stars have been there more than they haven't this year.
That we are here, with a week to go in the season, and can recount exhilarating games one after another, serves as little consolation to the fact that the NHL playoffs will begin next week without the Stars.
So, what's the answer for the team moving forward? Must they abandon their high-level of entertainment to find a high-level of success?
Not necessarily. They just need to be more selective with when they uncork it.
It's no secret that the Stars are a team built on offense. They are going to rush, control the puck, get scoring chances, and in the process give some up. Yet, how they play the first 20 minutes, can't always be how they play the last 20. And how they approach their game when they are tied or trailing, can't always be their approach when they are leading.
This season the Stars have surrendered two-goal leads in 17 different games this season. That is another incredible number. That's enough where it becomes part of your identity. Sadly for this year's Stars, it has. In fairness, it hasn't always been fatal. The Stars have managed to still win nine of those 17 games in which they saw a two-goal lead evaporate.
The most recent of those came Saturday night in Nashville. A late 3-1 lead was answered by the Predators, and overtime was needed. Dallas prevailed, however. In overtime. On a penalty shot. Pretty entertaining, right?
But sometimes it is fatal. The most recent example of that came in Friday's 'Best Game of the Week.' Dallas had a 5-3 lead in the final minute of the second period. They had scored four straight goals, had only allowed 12 shots in the entire game, and were in complete control. With about a half-minute to go in the frame, the Stars turned the puck over in the St. Louis zone with all three forwards caught in deep. The Blues scored on the counterattack, pulled within one at the intermission, and never looked back.
They scored three more in the third, finished with four unanswered of their own, and won the game 7-5. Entertaining? Maybe before that ending got in the way.
After the game, St. Louis players told the press that it was the goal in the final minute of the second period that gave them the push to win. It was also the goal that really irked Stars Head Coach, Lindy Ruff.
Said Ruff postgame, "If the mentality is, at 5-3, you're going to go out and score, and give up that opportunity, you're inviting your own misfortune."
Ruff wore a lot of the responsibility. "It tells me (that) I haven't done a good enough job with this group yet. They're still not there yet," he said.
In that sense, the Stars have invited their own misfortune a little too often this year. Ruff compared the way Dallas lost to St. Louis to the way the Stars were losing games earlier in the season. Call it learning how to finish games. Being smarter. Having better recognition of the time and score. However you describe it, it's been a battle all season long. One that Dallas has been unable to consistently overcome.
Dallas has shown the ability to do it at times this season, proving that they can still be offensive, up-tempo and entertaining, while also being smart and successful. The 6-0 win over Arizona on New Year's Eve. The 7-1 win over Minnesota in January. The 4-0 win over Chicago in March. That's a pretty entertaining list too, isn't it?
The blue print is there. But like most things it is a matter of being able to do it repeatedly. There are a number of things the Stars will have to figure out this summer. Near the top of the list, though, will be how to more consistently alter their play when they need to. Especially, if they plan to employ the same base-style with what should be another offensively-explosive team. If they can do that, it is very possible to find yourself with the same entertaining team to watch, minus the seemingly-inevitable sucker punch waiting around the corner.
However, as Ruff pointed out Friday, "They're still not there yet."
This summer they have six months to get there. The Stars have to prove that with smart in-game adjustments, they can still play to their strengths without 'inviting misfortune.' If they can, maybe what we'll all get is the same high-speed thrill ride, but with a safe, soft landing.
Now, that sounds entertaining.
The Stars close the curtain on the 2014-2015 season this week with a Monday night stop in San Jose, a Wednesday night trip to Anaheim, and a Saturday night home finale against Nashville. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' in the final week of the Stars season:
The Stars had hoped to be a much better road team this season and they have been. The Stars have won six of their last seven away games and have 22 wins on the road this season. That ties them for the seventh-most in the NHL. The Stars are 22-15-2 outside of Dallas compared to just 16-16-8 at home. Last year was almost the exact opposite as the club went 23-11-7 at home, and 17-20-4 on the road.
In the final week of the season, ten Stars players have already matched or set new career highs in goals this season. With three games remaining, there are a few players who still have a chance to reach a new career mark. Tyler Seguin enters the final three games with 37 goals, matching the career-high he set last year in Dallas. Antoine Roussel has 13 goals, one shy of his current career-best. Colton Sceviour's eight goals match the number he put up as a rookie last season. Jason Demers has also equaled his career-best with five goals this year. All of them have come since his trade from the Sharks. Monday will also mark his first ever trip to San Jose as a visitor. Jamie Benn has 30 goals entering this week. He is four behind his career-high of 34, but would need an incredible final week to reach that mark.
Entering the final week of the season, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are the only set of teammates to each have 30 goals so far. As of Monday, there are only 14 different 30-goal scorers this season, and the Stars leading scorers account for two of them. Despite missing ten games to injury, Seguin is tied for fourth in the league with 37 goals, and Benn is tied for 12th with 30. Seguin begins the final week of the season on a four-game goal scoring streak. He needs three goals in his final three games in an attempt to reach 40 goals for the first time in his career. Benn is also still in the race for the NHL scoring lead with 77 points. He begins this week in fifth place, but just four points behind the league-leader, Sidney Crosby. The other players ahead of him are Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, and Jakub Voracek.
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.