By David Mullen
Continuing a march through the Stanley Cup Playoffs could be the most grueling accomplishment in professional sports. After off-season training and a series of exhibition games, teams play 82 regular season games in two different countries and then must quickly get ready for what could be as many as 28 more playoff games. Some postseason favorites like the Tampa Lightening and Washington Capitals never made it out of the first round.
The Dallas Stars played 13 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which exceeded team expectations for many. They beat the Nashville Predators in the First Round four games to two.
But after more than 85 minutes of play in game seven of the Second Round of the Western Conference Playoffs, the Stars season was finished and the season seems unfulfilled.
Late in the evening of May 7, the Stars finally succumbed to an aggressive St. Louis Blues team when St. Louis native Pat Maroon scored 5:50 into the second overtime after being set up by Robert Thomas, who became the first teenager in Blues history to get a point in a game seven, allowing the Blues to overcome a 3-2 series lead and advancing the team to the Western Conference Finals.
But it had nothing to do with another player with St. Louis roots. Stars goalie Ben Bishop, who grew up in suburban Kirkwood, Mo., faced 54 shots, made a professional career high 52 saves and played an unbelievable game. His teammates, however, at times looked like the wear and tear of a long season had finally caught up with them.
“I thought our goaltender was great,” said Stars rookie head coach Jim Montgomery in a postgame press conference. “I thought a lot of players had good games, but overall, I thought the Blues were the better team. I thought they were in game six (a 4-1 loss) and I thought they were in game seven. They continued to get better and we kind of stagnated.”
If you believe in conventional wisdom about the Stanley Cup playoffs, goaltending will take a team far in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Bishop took the Stars as far as they could go. Unfortunately, Stars front-liners Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin just did not play up to expectations and were frustrated by the Blues style of play. It was a tough end to the Stars season, but they are still young, fast and poised for the future. Benn is only 29 and Sequin is only 27. Their defense was improved with John Klingberg (26) and budding star Miro Heiskanen, still a teenager at 19 years old. And if there was a silver lining in the loss, the Stars only owe a second-round pick to the New York Rangers for left wing Mats Zuccarello, who provided a spark when acquired in a February 23 trade.
But the fact remains that the Stars must find more scoring to compete. They finished 29th out of the 31 NHL teams in goals in the regular season. As a tribute to their goaltending and emerging defense, the Stars were second in the league in goals against.
As is tradition, hockey players grow beards throughout the playoffs. The chin hairs will continue to sprout for the Blues. For the Stars, the razors will now come out. But with a few months of rest and a possible personnel move or two, Dallas will hope to be sharper in the 2019-20 season.