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On the Radar: Winning Formula

by Josh Bogorad / Dallas Stars

When the Dallas Stars opened last week with a victory over the Ottawa Senators, it wasn't exactly the type of winning formula Head Coach Lindy Ruff had in mind. Dallas struggled out of the gate, allowing three first period goals and trailed by a pair at intermission. In the second period the Stars roared back with four unanswered goals to take control of the game. They survived in the third, getting outshot 16-5 in the final frame and surrendering the only goal, but still held on for a 5-4 win. After the game Ruff called it one of the team's worst periods all season, followed by one of their best. The win snapped a four-game winless skid, and in any fashion, the Stars were in desperate need of two points. However, most people agreed that as important as that win was, it wasn't the "type of game" the Stars could duplicate if they wanted to close in a playoff spot.

It turns out it was.

...At least for last week.

The Stars played four games in six nights last week and won three of them. In all three wins a team lost multi-goal leads, and nine combined goals were scored. On Saturday, the Stars reversed the start from the Ottawa game, and raced out to a 3-0 lead over the Washington Capitals. The game started to turn in the second period, and by the opening minute of the third period, it was tied at three. Dallas responded with two goals in 16 seconds and again held on late, getting outshot 14-7 in the final period and giving up a late goal to make a one-goal game.

Final score - Stars 5, Caps 4.

The next night Dallas and Chicago traded haymakers right off the bat. The Stars spent almost the first three minutes of the game trapped in their own zone as Kari Lehtonen withstood a barrage from the Blackhawks. The Stars opened the scoring with two goals, only to have the Hawks strike back with two of their own. Vernon Fiddler scored a last-minute goal in the first, giving the Stars a 3-2 lead in a period that saw the clubs combine for 34 shots. The second period was the one in this game where they Stars had to hang on. They were outshot 16-6, gave up the lone goal (and the lead), and relied heavily on the superb play of Kari Lehtonen. With no lead to hang on to in the third period, the Stars went for the jugular. Dallas scored three goals, outshot Chicago 14-5 and ripped away the win from the Blackhawks in statement-like fashion. It was an impressive display to say the least for a club who entered the game winless versus the Blackhawks, winless in the second game of back-to-backs, and had lost in three similar situations to Chicago earlier in the season. Final score - Stars 6, Hawks 3.

Last week was a big one for Dallas. They claimed six of a possible eight points, and crazily enough, their only loss came in what Ruff called one of their best games of the year. They responded exactly how they needed to after dropping four in a row. As play opened on Monday the Stars were just two points out of a Western Conference Wild Card spot.

It was also important because the Stars found a different way to win games. In their three wins the Stars gave up 11 goals. In all three games there was one period where Dallas' opponent doubled their shots on goal. In two of the three Stars wins, the other team scored four goals. By contrast, in their first 18 wins of the season, Dallas opponents had only scored four-or-more goals twice. That number was matched just last week.

So, what does that mean? Am I saying that games like that are the answer for the Stars? Not at all. Along with most people, I believe that winning games like Dallas did last week has a shelf life. It's hard to imagine making a run to the playoffs, let alone having any success once you get there, by giving up four goals a night.

However, to be able to win games like the Stars did last week might prove invaluable.

Above we pointed out that before last week the Stars had only won two games all season when their opponent scored at least four goals. Meanwhile, Dallas themselves had lost five. Earlier in the season the Stars would play well for two periods, get outmatched in the other, and find a way to lose a game. It happened time and time again. Last week they held. This year the Stars have seen a number of multi-goal leads go up in smoke and never be able to recover. Last week they squandered leads of three and two, and rebounded in immediate, impressive fashion to reclaim those games.

If the Stars plan was to win like that all season long, they'd likely have a problem. But it's not. Throughout the season Dallas has shown that they don't necessarily have a signature way they win hockey games.

There were the wins early in the season, where for the most part the Stars held their opponents to two-to-three goals and posted just enough to outlast them. There were the games in December where Lehtonen donned a cape and led them to victories. There were the blowout wins around New Year's, where the other team never stood a chance and Dallas pummeled them for 60 minutes. And then there was last week, which a couple of months ago might have served as a losing recipe, but lately has been a winning one for Dallas.

The point is that with 37 games left to play this season, and the Stars at the center of a no-holds-barred race for a playoff spot, the only thing that matters is getting points. Let's face it, this team is not built right now to be leaders in goals-against average. There are going to be games and moments where the other team gets, and capitalizes on, a good number of chances. The ability to take that in stride and still win hockey games is paramount.

While long term success probably features a different approach than their three most recent victories, the Stars need to be able to collect wins as they strive towards that. That's exactly what they did last week.

Thursday's game against Winnipeg proved that there is no defined way for a team can win or lose a hockey game. The rest of the week seemed to support that theory. In the end it appears the only real "winning formula" is the one the team with more goals uses on that specific night.

As the Stars have shown this season, that can come in many different forms.

The Stars have just one game this week before the NHL shuts down for the All-Star Break. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' in their very short week:

Close Calls

Whatever the winning formula has been, it has featured a lot of one-goal wins for the Stars as of late. That's been good news for Dallas, considering that 8 of their last 12 games have been decided by a single goal. Dating back to the beginning of December - when the Stars began to turn their season around - Dallas has a 7-2-2 record in one-goal games. That translates to a .636 winning percentage and a .727 points percentage. Prior to December, the Stars were 5-2-5 in one-goal games, totaling a .417 winning percentage and .625 point percentage.

Second Coming

The offensive acquisitions the Stars made over the summer gave them a lot of confidence that they would have two high-caliber lines this season. While adjustment periods led to line mixing, Ruff has spent the first half of this year searching for the right combinations, and there never appeared to be a true second line. However, lately it appears that Stars have found the potent, reliable second line they hoped to have. Dating back to December 27 when the trio of Erik Cole, Jason Spezza, and Ales Hemsky was put together, those three have been great together. They have combined for 13 goals, 15 assists, and 28 points in 12 games. (Note: This includes the game on January 10 that Cole missed due to illness). Furthermore, the three players are a combined +22 over that span. To put into perspective just how valuable that line has been, the 28 points matches the total of the top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Brett Ritchie/Colton Sceviour over the last dozen games. However, the most important number of all is that since those lines were created, the Stars have posted a 7-3-2 record. If Dallas can keep up the pace they've set, the top-six they hoped for this summer looks to be in place for the second-half of the season.

All Eyes on Him

Tuesday marks the first time this season, and just the third time in his career that Tyler Seguin will be facing off against his former club, the Boston Bruins. Last year Seguin had two assists in his two appearances against the Bruins. Both came in the game in Dallas. He also contributed a key shootout goal in a shootout win at Boston. While with the Stars, Seguin has played in just over 60% of the number of regular season games he had with the Bruins, but has already eclipsed his Boston totals. He has played in 125 games with Dallas, recording 136 points (65g, 71a). He also has 18 power play goals. In Boston, Seguin played in 203 games, notching 121 points (56g, 65a). He had 10 power play goals. Seguin and the Stars make their lone trip to Boston this year soon after the All-Star Break on February 10.

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.

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