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Burnside: Five takeaways from Stars' 'playoff-game' win over Montreal

Another slow start? No worries for Dallas in Tuesday's come-from-behind victory

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

The Dallas Stars shook off a lethargic start Tuesday night and squeaked by a banged-up Montreal Canadiens team 3-1 to improve to 11-9-1 on the season, including a sparkling 8-2-0 at home.

Here are some musings on another home win in advance of a trip to Denver and a date Wednesday night with the Colorado Avalanche.

Video: Hitchcock on "playoff like" win

 

1. Hello, Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

As Ken Hitchcock noted Tuesday morning, the first quarter of the season is for trends and stats and other stuff - and now, it's all about the wins. 

Presumably, that means it doesn't matter how you get there, it just matters that you do. And against a Montreal team that was missing their top goalie, Carey Price, and discovered late in the going that top defenseman Shea Weber wasn't going to be able to go because of a lower-body injury, the Stars sure took their sweet time in getting into this one. 

In fact, for 32:04 - or until the moment that Brendan Gallagher gave Montreal a 1-0 lead on a power play - the Stars looked as disinterested as they have all season, at least at home. 

Sloppy, slow, prone to unforced errors. This had the makings of an ugly night against a team that is floundering and was coming off an embarrassing 6-0 loss at home to Toronto. 

But the Gallagher goal seemed to touch a nerve, and with Hitchcock juggling his lines, the Stars scored twice in 59 seconds late in the second period to take the lead and march to victory.

That marked the ninth time this season Montreal has given up two goals in a minute, in case you're keeping score at home.

"I thought the game was great," Hitchcock said. "It was a playoff game. Two desperate teams. It's a battle. There's no room. There's no space. Every puck battle matters. If you make a mistake, it's usually pretty critical. But overall, this is the way we're going to have to play to win."

Video: MTL@DAL: Shore, Spezza score 59 seconds apart

 

2. Sign of the apocalypse?

Okay, maybe not the apocalypse. But you have to wonder at the odds that after Jason Spezza went 15 games to start the season without a goal and Devin Shore went 19 games without scoring a goal, that they would both score in Saturday's 6-3 win over Edmonton - and then turn around and both score again on Tuesday against Montreal. 

Now, if you're a glass-is-half-full kind of person, maybe this is an indication that two key offensive personnel are starting to round into form after a slow start. 

"Felt good to create some chances," said Spezza, who now has three goals on the season. 

"I've been around long enough to know that when you're in a drought, you just got to work your way out of it and hopefully get a little more results. Gives us something to build off of that's a big win, especially with the first end of a back-to-back." 

Shore, who has played almost exclusively in the top six for the Stars, as well as top power-play time, admitted there has been a shift in emotion the past couple of games for him. 

"Sometimes, it seems like it's impossible and then sometimes they come in bunches," Shore said. "Hopefully, if you work hard over the long term, it works out. And right now, in the short term, it feels good to contribute. I'm pumped that we got a win after going down and showing resiliency, that's really good for us." 

And the fact that Hitchcock decided after a tepid start to the game to move Spezza onto a line with Shore, who added an assist on the Spezza goal, and Tyler Seguin, well, maybe there's a more to this 'sign of the apocalypse' thing than meets the eye. 

Perhaps we could call this group the Redemption Line. Or not.

"I was doing a lot of juggling today," Hitchcock admitted. "I just have to treat every game individually. I'm not looking for long-term chemistry." 

"When I didn't see a lot of energy we had to find it somewhere. They gave us great energy," Hitchcock added. 

Video: MTL@DAL: Smith clears puck away from the crease

 

3. Back to Ben

No question, the first quarter of the season hasn't gone exactly how Ben Bishop or the Stars mapped it out. 

But the one thing no one can quibble about is how well Bishop has played at home. 

Heading into Tuesday's game, he was 6-1 with a .948 save percentage. He stopped 29 of 30 Montreal shots on Tuesday, and what was so impressive was that with his team playing long stretches of aimless hockey, Bishop was what we had been expecting him to be when he first signed a long-term deal with the Stars: solid, calm, poised. 

An example? Shortly after the Gallagher goal, the Stars put together their best surge of the game, thanks to the newly reconstituted Seguin/Spezza/Shore trio, but were denied by Montreal netminder Charlie Lindgren.

Then, Nicolas Deslauriers broke in on Bishop from the left side and Bishop turned aside the chance. Less than five minutes later, the Seguin line struck for what would be the difference-making goals. 

Earlier, before the Montreal goal, Bishop denied Charles Hudon on a great chance after a Stephen Johns turnover. The netminder did have some help, of course, as Gemel Smith cleared a puck that was rolling toward the goal line in the second period. And then with six minutes to go in regulation, Johns more than redeemed himself as he swept another puck from crossing the line with what would have been the tying goal. 

"I think we were kind of mirroring each other there. We were both kind of waiting for somebody to take over the game. We kind of let them get that first goal. I think it was a kind of wakeup call," said Bishop, who, because of the absence of backup Kari Lehtonen, who is absent for a few days following the birth of his son, will start in back-to-back games Wednesday night in Denver.

Video: MTL@DAL: Bishop flashes the leather on Pacioretty

 

4. Penalty kill answers the bell

The vaunted Stars penalty kill has seen some of the luster go off their play in recent games, and it's something the team has hoped to address. 

And, yes, they did allow a power-play goal to Gallagher after a Brett Ritchie high stick in the offensive zone.

 But when they incurred a rash of penalties in the third period, including another minor on Ritchie early, the penalty kill rose to the occasion. 

"We were just more competitive from the drop of the puck," Hitchcock said of the penalty kill, which has now allowed at least one power-play goal in five straight games, and in eight of their last 10 games.

 "We weren't defending for the first minute. We did a lot of good things. We ended up with a short-handed chance on the breakaway." 

Kudos especially to the defensive duo of Dan Hamhuis and Greg Pateryn, who were rock-like all night. They combined for 10:31 in perfect penalty-kill time.

Video: MTL@DAL: Pateryn delivers huge check on Morrow

 

5. On the road again

So, let's be frank. The Stars are a better team right now than the Canadiens, who were missing the aforementioned cornerstone players and have been plagued by a team-wide lack of scoring and poor special-teams play.

So Dallas should have won that game. And they did. The bigger question, having taken care of the 'should have,' is what they do in Denver on Wednesday night, where they must play a well-rested divisional team that is currently ahead of them in the standings.

"It's no secret we haven't been good enough on the road, so this is a good test for us," Spezza said. "They're playing well. They're a team we've had not a lot of success against the last couple of years in their building, so it could do a lot for our group to have some success and to string a few together."

Bishop joked that having to quickly pack up after a home game and then fly to Denver for a game might be a good change to the routine. And maybe there's something to that, having to turn around and get back at it 24 hours later rather than be reminded over and over again how poorly they've played on the road, where they're 3-7-1.

Hitchcock doesn't exactly buy this line of thinking.

"I don't think like that. I think right now it's a four point game tomorrow. It's a division game," Hitchcock said. "I don't look at it anymore, road or home. We've got to win division games if we want to be a playoff team. We've got a rested opponent. Opponent's been sitting at home for four days. That's going to be a significant challenge for us. But we're going to have to go in there and play well."

Either way, a definite test of character for the Stars.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.

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