On the Radar: A Week Like None Other
It has been 21 years since the Dallas Stars migrated south and introduced hockey to the Lone-Star State. Since that time over a thousand weeks have passed. There have been highs, lows, championships and failures. But there has never been a week like the one the Stars just experienced.
To attempt to put it in perspective, imagine someone telling you last Wednesday morning, that within a few days Kari Lehtonen would be out indefinitely and Tim Thomas (WHAT??) would be the starting netminder for Dallas at the most crucial time of the season.
Then imagine that same person telling you that neither of those would be the biggest story of the week. In fact, they wouldn’t even be the second biggest.
The last seven days for the Stars have been intense, emotional, surprising, celebratory, nostalgic, dramatic, historic, and downright frightening.
The week began with the completely unexpected news that the Stars had acquired Thomas from the Florida Panthers. At the time the move was applauded as a strong insurance policy to aid Lehtonen with so many games in a short time down the stretch. Little did anyone know at the time, that move potentially became a season saver.
When game action began last week the Stars knew they had two huge contests against Vancouver and Minnesota, both teams a part of the jam in the middle of the Western Conference standings. In the first game, the Stars ran the Canucks right out of the American Airlines Center. Tyler Seguin chipped in with his third hat trick of the season, and fifth four-plus point night. Two days later one of the greatest events in Stars history unfolded when Mike Modano’s #9 was retired by the organization. The Stars pulled out all the stops for the event. The 1999 Stanley Cup Championship Team reunited as part of an emotionally stirring pre-game ceremony. As central figures from the Modano Era spoke, and impressive highlights one after another weaved across the scoreboard, Stars fans were taken on an incredible trip down memory lane. An emotional Modano brought the fans to their feet and tears to their eyes as he summed up his relationship with the city, and embraced the role as the man who made hockey successful in Dallas.
Following the ceremony, the Stars and Wild played a terrific hockey game in front of the largest home crowd in Dallas Stars history. In an almost script-like finish, the Stars scored two late goals to come from behind and win 4-3 in regulation.
Somewhat underplayed in the mix of all of the excitement of the event was that Lehtonen took a vicious collision in the third period, and had to leave the game. It was later diagnosed as a concussion, and the star goaltender is being treated as day-to-day, leaving Thomas as the Go-to Guy for the immediate future.
With the town still abuzz from the weekend, the Stars welcomed in the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night. The Stars had already run a gamut of emotions to that point, but nobody could have been prepared for what happened next.
By now you assuredly have seen, and read, and talked about the incident surrounding Rich Peverley. If you were in the building that night, you will likely never forget the uneasiness of the 20 minutes before the announcement that Peverley was in stable condition. I know that I won’t. Thanks to the incredible and quick work by a prepared team of doctors, Peverley’s life was saved and a catastrophe was averted. Still, for the thousands in attendance, there was a paralyzing feeling that washed over. After the announcement that the game had been postponed, some slowly started to file out. Others remained in their seats, still trying to process what had happened. Still trying to make sure that Peverley would indeed be ok. It’s hard to fully explain if you weren’t watching the event play out in real time, but everything was slow, silent, and surreal. People seemed lost as they made their way to the exits and the arena was emptied.
Which makes it almost unthinkable that the Stars left the AAC and went to the airport to board a flight to St. Louis for a game the following night. The people closest to Peverley (aside from his family) had to go play a game that summonses every bit of physical and mental focus you have. And they had to leave straight from a scene that drained you of both. A scene where they thought they had lost a teammate.
I remember driving home on Monday night, calling my family, and thinking to myself, “How in the world are they going to be ready to play tomorrow?”
I still don’t know the answer to that question. But all of us watched the results unfold Tuesday night. The Stars were physical. They were sharp. They were intense. They were ready. The team didn’t just find a way to play. They found a way to win.
That was a reoccurring theme last week. Throughout all of the emotions and surprises, the one constant was that the Stars won every game they played. It is hard not to be impressed with this year’s Stars team. They have suffered through injuries, illnesses, change, losing streaks, and always found a way to fight through them. Last week provided the biggest obstacle of all, and somehow they persevered. There is a closeness in the locker room that makes them want to play for fallen teammates, but also for each other still in the lineup. And yet, at the same time, there’s also a next-man up philosophy that has been successfully utilized throughout the year. It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Thomas and Colton Sceviour – both of whom were not on the roster a week ago – played a large role in Tuesday’s win.
There is one more month left in the season and the Stars still find themselves in tight race for a playoff spot. Right now they are clinging to the #2 Wild Card spot, and inching closer to #1. But regardless of how things finish up, there has been something special about this year’s team. Some of it can be pinpointed, and some of it cannot. But it’s undoubtedly there. If you’ve followed this season you have seen it time and time again. Last week, through a roller-coaster the likes of which had never been seen, that special quality was once again on display. This time the rest of the world got to see it, too.
The Stars open this week at home on Friday, and then hit the road to begin a three-game trip. Here are some things to keep ‘On the Radar’ in the upcoming slate of games.
The first opponent for the Stars this week is the Calgary Flames on Friday night. The Stars have manhandled the Flames in both prior meetings so far this year. Dallas has outscored Calgary 12-4 in a pair of victories. Jamie Benn has eight points (3g, 5a) in the two games, including a career-high, six-point night in the most recent meeting. That night also produced one of Seguin’s three hat tricks this year in a four-goal performance. The Stars have scored in all six periods in the season series, and will try for the season sweep on Friday.
We’re Going Streaking
Dallas has won 32 games this year, and they are a season-best nine games over .500. However, they have not had a winning streak over three games all season. That can change on Friday night when they face the Flames. The Stars have won three straight games, and a victory on Friday would be their longest streak of the year. Three previous times this season the Stars had three-game winning streaks, but they were snapped at the hands of Chicago, New York Rangers, and Colorado.
Staying Out of Trouble
One of the more underrated storylines this year is Tyler Seguin’s lack of penalty minutes. Through 63 games Seguin, who ranks tied for 4th in NHL scoring and averages more than 19 minutes a game in playing time, has just four penalty minutes all season. It’s the fewest PIM of anyone in the NHL’s Top-30 scorers, and only one other player ranks in single digits. His first minor penalty came via a Delay of Game call in the final minute of the second game of the season on October 5 vs. Washington. His second was a hooking infraction in the closing minutes of a blowout win on December 7 vs. Philadelphia. It has been 37 games since his last penalty. Coincidentally, he also had a hat trick in that game against the Flyers, and he has more hat tricks this season than penalties (3-to-2). Seguin’s career low for penalty minutes is 16, which came in last year’s lockout-shortened season. He already has matched his career highs for goals, assists, and points this season His next of each will set a new career mark. At this rate, he might also add fewest penalty minutes to a career-best mark by season’s end.
The Stars power play has been on fire as of late. They have power play goals in five straight games, and are a combined 7-21 (33.3%) over the stretch. Dallas will have their work cut out for them this week, and they take on two of the top penalty-killing teams in the NHL. After they host Calgary (17th) on Friday, they face Winnipeg, who ranks 5th in the league in PK on Sunday. They then face the top-ranked Pittsburg Penguins PK unit on Tuesday.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for the Stars radio broadcasts. He can be heard 30 minutes before face-off and immediately after games all season long on SportsRadio 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.