Throughout most of the regular NHL season, the Dallas Stars flew under the radar. Yes, the team was good, however there was much controversy surrounding the team.
On December 9, 2019, the hockey world was made aware of the firing of Dallas Stars head coach, Jim Montgomery. When the Dallas Stars organization released a statement on the firing of Montgomery, they stated, “This decision was made due to unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League.” It would later be revealed that Montgomery was dealing with alcohol abuse and had checked himself into rehab.
Into the role stepped Dallas Stars Assistant Head Coach, Rick Bowness. With a new coach and the rest of a season to play, the Stars looked to continue the successful path they had been on.
The path continued as the Stars ended the regular season with a record of 37-24-8 (20-13-5 under Bowness) before the league was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With little to no answers at the time, it seemed as though the Stars would end their season in slight disappointment with a six-game losing streak. However, there was good news on the horizon.
During all the chaos, there were talks of a safely planned out return to get the athletes back on the ice. Finally, on July 6, the league and the NHL Players’ Association announced that there had been a decision reached on a set date for a return to hockey. Almost following in the NBA’s footsteps, but not quite to the same extent, the NHL formulated the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto in Canada. The formal date of a return to gameplay was announced as August 1 for the Qualifying Rounds of the NHL playoffs and a round robin round for the top four automatic qualifiers in each conference.
When the exhibition games and round robin rounds were completed, it seemed as though Dallas would continue its road of disappointment. During the round robin, the Stars finished 1-2, dropping games against the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche. The only victory was a narrow one in which the team scraped by the St. Louis Blues with a 2-1 shoot-out victory. With that one victory, Dallas found themselves as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference paired against the Calgary Flames
Fast forward three games into the series, and the Stars find themselves down 1-2 in the series. After a pitiful round robin display, one could only assume the worst. In the next outing, the Stars barely slid past the Flames with an impressive offensive overtime victory. In the next contest, the Stars would inch by once again with a 2-1 victory on the back of goaltender Anton Khudobin and captain Jamie Benn. After this game, many could figure that this series would become a highly contested one that would most likely head into a Game 7. However, during the next contest, Dallas flipped the switch.
The Stars found themselves down 3-0 in the 1st period. It appeared that this game would, once again, tie the series after the Flames’ third goal of the period from Rasmus Andersson. However, with just a glimmer of hope, Stars defensemen, Miro Heiskanen blasted a one-shot after being set-up by forward Corey Perry. The Stars would never turn the switch off as they would go onto score six more unanswered goals and win the series 4-2.
The next series against the Avalanche would prove to be the most challenging. The Stars would go up 3-1 in the series with only one more victory until the Western Conference Finals. However, Colorado’s not-so-secret weapon, forward Nathan MacKinnon would not let the series go so easily.
MacKinnon, who averaged 2 points per game in the series, is a Hart Memorial Trophy Finalist, awarded to the league’s top player. The Avalanche won the next two games to force a Game 7. However, the Stars took away MacKinnon, therefore, cutting the head off the beast. The game was a back and forth affair, however MacKinnon was almost a non-factor. In the end, however, the main story of the game was the emergence of Dallas rookie, Joel Kiviranta.
In a game where there was so much on the line, Kiviranta made the most out of his NHL Playoff debut with a hat trick and the game-winning goal in OT. He became a hero in Dallas over-night. On the backs of the rookie, the Stars began to fly-high.
It came down to the Vegas Golden Knights. Many around the league had already written the Stars off, so many thought that the Knights would do away with the Stars easy. Not many gave the team a chance as they felt as though the Knights would extinguish the Stars flame. However, this was the furthest from the truth.
The series presented the most defensive matchup of the Stars playoff run. In Game 1, the lone goal was scored by defenseman, John Klingberg to win 1-0. In Game 2, the Knights would blank the Stars 3-0 to tie the series. It seemed that it would be a hard-hitting and long series. However, the next three games belonged the Stars for one simple factor, Anton Khudobin. The “Russian Machine” shared time on the ice with goalie, Ben Bishop. However, when Bishop suffered an undisclosed injury, Khudobin stepped into the starting role and picked up quickly.
With an amazing defensive series by the Stars, it was capped off by an out-of-this-world performance by ‘Dobby’. When the defensive lacked in the slightest, the quick and elusive goalie was there to make beautiful saves. In overtime of Game 5 on the evening of September 15, forward Denis Gurianov scored the OT goal that sent the Stars to their first Stanley Cup Appearance in 20 years.
With a looming match-up between either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the New York Islanders, look for the Dallas Stars to make the most of their appearance. With all the weapons the Stars have in their arsenal, there’s no telling where the action is going to come from next.