The year was 1999, the stakes were high as the Dallas Stars faced the Buffalo Sabres in game six of the Stanley Cup playoff series. Closing in on the five-minute mark in overtime, Brett Hull scored the winning goal naming Dallas the Stanley Cup champions.
Since then the Stars have gone dark in playoff finals for the past 18 years, making an appearance every few years but falling to the competition early on and not even qualifying for a stretch of five consecutive seasons. Yet there’s something different in the air in the 2017-18 season. Fans are feeling optimistic, with each win fueling the fire of hope that maybe this year will be the year that Victory Green brings home the Stanley Cup once more deep in the heart of Texas.
So what is it that just might make the Stars the first DFW professional sports team the one to win it all this year? Three key components: synergy, goaltending, and positional depth.
With head coach Ken Hitchcock at the helm again, the Stars’ chances of making it far are definitely in their favor for two reasons. The first being that Hitch has notably improved each and every club he has ever coached. Yes, the Stars no doubt took a gamble in rolling back the clock hiring him in hopes that history would repeat itself, but can you blame them? Thus far, he’s the only coach out of the club’s past seven head coaches to lead the team to the Stanley Cup finals. This brings us to the second reason – he’s a defensive-minded coach, which we can all agree is a department where the Stars have been significantly lacking in season after season. Hitchcock has what it takes, with many years of experience under his belt, to build up our defensive line which we’ve witnessed him do already with roughly half the season gone. But we all know it takes more than just a solid coach to win a game, much less the coveted championship cup. While Hitchcock is an ideal match for our roster, by looking a little closer at the roster itself we see a healthy mix of vets as well as young talent. The fresh faces of Alexander Radulov, Remi Elie, and Tyler Pitlick have meshed incredibly well with vets like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Jason Spezza. Each starting lineup has an amazing mix of skill and speed that’s especially seen with the Radulov and Elie additions.
I think every Stars fan can remember the time and place when they heard the news of the team signing free agent Ben Bishop. This move in particular was quite the snag for Dallas and Big Ben has proved himself time and time again in the crease, even after being out for a few games with a back injury. Starting 29 games this season for the Stars, his impressive 2.67 GAA and .910 save percentage has been a healthy challenge for former starting goalie, Kari Lehtonen, to up his game. With Lehtonen being tired and overplayed in the 2016-17 season, Bishop’s performance has really pushed him to step up and we’ve seen his overall psyche and confidence consistently improve. Even though he’s started half as many games as Bishop, with his GAA standing at 2.59 and holding a .907 save percentage, Kari has stood tall and really shown up when given the opportunity. While neither of them could be considered the next Ed Belfour, this goaltending duo is continually pushing each other and giving it their all in the blue paint.
The main and most major shift we’ve seen this year is the focus on adding and building on to the defensive pipeline. The constant process of drafting and developing players is finally starting to pay off especially with key players like Julius Honka, Esa Lindell, and John Klingberg foreseeably being long term defensive staples to the team. The Stars’ offense vets are still as strong as ever with Seguin taking the lead in number of goals scored standing at 18, Benn with 15, and the newest member to the offense fam, Alexander Radulov, following close behind the captain with 12 goals so far this season.
The Stars still have a long road ahead of them, but if they continue to build on these three key components, Dallas has one heck of a fighting chance in taking home the Stanley Cup this year. And if not this year, the Stars could definitely still swing a championship win in the next two years at least due to young top-shelf prospects that are expected to be prominent additions to the lineup next season, such as Denis Gurianov and Miro Heiskanen.
Until then, the Stars (23-14-2) will press on one game at a time and this week, will ring in 2018 with a home stand against the St. Louis Blues (20-15-3) on New Year’s Eve at 7:30pm.
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