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On the bright side: Five reasons for optimism after Stars’ second round loss

On the bright side: Five reasons for optimism after Stars’ second round loss

 

A game seven loss in the second round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs is painful for Dallas Stars fans. No matter which way you slice it.

Dallas had a 3-2 lead in the series, tangible momentum in games six and seven, and an opportunity to close the series at home.

And yet, 2019’s end result looks no different 2016’s, when the Stars lost in seven games to St. Louis in the second round.

The series, and season, isn’t all for naught however. Below are five reasons for Dallas fans to take the defeat in grace.

The team is showing year-to-year improvement. Gone is the ‘Culture of Mediocrity.’

In the aforementioned 2016 season, Dallas dominated the Central Division en route to a 108-point regular season and a first-round triumph over Minnesota. In 2017, the Stars retained most of their talent, but face-planted on the way to a 79-point disaster. In 2018, Dallas re-tooled the roster, and was in a playoff position well into March. However, goalie Ben Bishop couldn’t stay healthy, and the Stars collapsed despite a respectable 93 points.

Dallas made its second coaching change in as many seasons, and new head coach Jim Montgomery entered 2018-19 with minimal expectations, and general manager Jim Nill on the hot seat. Looking at the season in retrospect, the team objectively improved.

Dallas recorded 93 points en route to a Wild Card berth, and obviously a second-round exit. But more importantly, the Stars’ young talent showed signs of development, and Dallas firmly established its identity with a fearsome penalty kill, and hard-nosed defensive style of play.

This came after a slow start to the season and a brief dip out of the playoff picture in March. Montgomery set out to break the infamous ‘culture of mediocrity,’ and at season’s end, he did so.

One could argue Ben Bishop earned the Vezina Trophy with his play this season.

Forever lost in Tuesday’s result is the herculean effort from goalie Ben Bishop played against his hometown St. Louis Blues.

Bishop stopped 52 of 54 St. Louis shots on goal in the loss, including a string of a 48 consecutive saves. Never mind the countless highlight reel stops to keep Dallas and its weak offensive effort afloat.

It won’t be remembered however, because the Stars lost. What will be remembered? His nomination for the Vezina Trophy after a 27-win, 1.98 goal allowed average, and 93 save percentage in the regular season.

Voters decide on the award after the conclusion of the regular season, so his strong overall performance in the playoffs won’t factor in. If it did, one could feel very confident about his chances to take the award home ahead of fellow nonimees Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders and Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay.

Even then, Bishop proved he can stay healthy over a significant stretch of time, and affirmed his elite status among NHL netminders, performance-wise.

Rookies Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz are already playing at a high level.

Miro Heiskanen was an NHL All-Star as a 19-year-old. You could stop the argument there.

But Hesikanen’s play was an arugment by itself. His numbers don’t pop off the page, but his lightning-fast speed and ability to run with some of the league’s most talented skaters caught national attention.

The No. 3 overall pick in 2017’s Draft established himself as arguably Dallas’ best defensive defenseman in his first year, and will be a cornerstone of the franchise for year to come. Fellow rookie Roope Hintz proved with his play he will, too.

He only recorded 22 points in 58 regular season games, but showed his full potential with five goals and three assists in just 13 playoff games. Neither looked the part of a rookie when playing up against two staunch division rivals on hockey’s highest level.

Jamie Benn, Ben Bishop, Alexander Radulov, and Tyler Seguin are locked up long-term.

This core is worth keeping together.

Some might argue that Benn and Radulov under-performed from a numbers standpoint in the regular season, but Seguin played like a superstar, pacing the Stars in both goals and assists.

Fortunately for Dallas fans, the fear of his departure coming into the season was quickly neutralized with an October contract extension.

All three players have arguably earned their deals. When the Stars entered an offensive rut late in the season, each played extremely well, and did plenty to keep Dallas’ weaker comparative unit afloat in the playoffs.

Benn and Seguin are each making $9 million-plus through 2025, and Radulov will skate by their sides at least through 2022 and make north of $6 million while doing it. Bishop will be making just under $5 million until 2023.

If nothing else, this quartet of fan-favorites isn’t being split up anytime soon.

Defense wins championships. And the playoffs proved Dallas has one of the NHL’s best.

This “Dad-age” is no consolation to heartbroken Stars fans, but many the playoffs affirmed this as a near-truth.

Dallas knocked off a division winner and nearly 2019’s hottest team with arguably less talent on-paper in both series. Its defensive unit is led by two frontline All-Stars in Heiskanen and John Klingberg. Esa Lindell’s emergence as a defensive enforcer has opponents on notice now and in the future.

Those three are likely the only returning defenders to Dallas’ 2019-20 lineup, but that’s a trio that would likely stack up against any other the NHL has to offer. The Stars won’t have much to spend on shoring up its strong suit in free agency, but reinforcements from prospects in the American League Hockey system like Julius Honka are encouraging. Dallas will also likely make its pitch as a legitimate cup contender to serviceable veterans willing to take a discount for one last postseason ride.

 

 

Staff Writer covering the Texas Rangers for Dallas Sports Fanatic. Current journalism student at the University of Missouri. Christ follower, sports fanatic, easy-going cat who isn't picky.

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