The 2019-20 edition of the Dallas Stars…where do we begin? If we were to tell you last November that the Stars would be three wins away from a Stanley Cup championship (their second one in franchise history) you’d probably have an eyebrow (or two) raised along with a friendly chuckle. Well, hockey fans, here we are in the heart of September, and the Stars along with the Lightning are the two remaining teams mired in a heat-of-the-night battle to hoist Lord Stanley’s proverbial mug.
To say that the Stars have defied the odds this summer would be a massive understatement. After a four-and-a-half month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a team that’s come together, played some excellent hockey, and got “red-hot” at just the right time. How have they done it, and what is it about this team that makes them so effective as a group? Let’s read on and find out.
Superior Goaltending from Anton Khudobin
Crazy, unpredictable, breathtaking, stellar. You name it, Anton Khudobin has probably experienced it. Entering this season, the 34-year-old netminder from Kazakhstan was playing on a $2.25 million contract where he was supposed to back up Ben Bishop in goal. Fast forward almost a year to the date. Khudobin is backstopping a feisty and talented Stars team in the Stanley Cup Final.
From a statistical perspective, Khudobin has been incredible during these playoffs. He has garnered some serious consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Whether or not he actually takes home the award is one thing but his body of work has been impressive, to say the least. In 21 playoff starts, Khudobin has posted a 13-8 record with a .918 save percentage and 2.72 goals-against-average with one shutout to his credit. Although the goals-against-average and save percentage have taken a bit of a hit over the past two games, Khudobin has been nothing short of spectacular this summer for big-D. Talk about an unexpected venture for Khudobin and the Stars. He’s this year’s “feel-good story”, now isn’t he?
Rick Bowness: One of the “Good Guys” in the Game
Some NHL players and coaches are just “married to the game”. Stars head coach, and long-time NHL player, Rick Bowness is one of them. After Jim Montgomery was dismissed of his duties as head coach, Jill Nill summoned 65-year-old Bowness to take over behind the bench. In 38 games during the regular season, Bowness led the team to a 20-13-5 record with a .592 points percentage and .583 win percentage. Not too shabby, wouldn’t you say?
As a coach, Bowness is known as a fine gentleman and a real, effective communicator. He’s respectful, pleasant to be around. He has earned everything he’s ever accomplished as both a player and coach. The Stars are lucky to have Bowness at the helm and can’t say enough good things about him.
One thing that often goes unnoticed on this pesky Stars team is their talent, depth, and skill at the forward position. In short order, the Stars have a real solid group of forwards that can play the way the game dictates. Led by the likes of Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin, and team captain Jamie Benn, the Stars have many “stars” at forward that certainly fly under the radar that has helped the club progress through the playoffs much to the surprise of hockey fans, pundits, and experts.
The teams’ secondary scoring candidates include real, important pieces such as the ever-improving Denis Gurianov and long-time San Jose Shark, and one of the best leaders in the sport, Joe Pavelski who have both enjoyed excellent postseasons. Rounding out the bottom six include the likes of Andrew Cogliano, Roope Hintz, Jason Dickinson, Joel Kiviranta, and former Gold Medal Olympian for Team Canada, Corey Perry. This group is balanced, quick, feisty, “in your face”, and just know how to get the job done. They’ve also put personal statistics and accolades on the back burner for the benefit of the team. They have been able to step up when the “big boys” struggled to score. I like the make-up of this team, and it comes as no surprise that their success as a group has been tenfold inside Edmonton, Alberta’s Western Conference bubble.
Skill, Size, and Stoppers on Defense
It’s hard to imagine a blue-line that includes the likes of both Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg. Add that to the likes of Esa Lindell, Jamie Oleksiak, and veteran stopper Andrej Sekera, and you have yourself a pretty formidable blue-line, now don’t you? As the playoffs have progressed, the Stars’ blue-line has been the heartbeat of their team in so many different ways.
For those of you who may not know Heiskanen, this is a player who’s quickly developing into one of the best all-around defensemen in the NHL, and a shoo-in Norris Trophy Candidate in the coming years. He’s intelligent, silky smooth, dynamic, and can change the outcome of a game at any moment. This Stars defense core has come a long way in recent years. It should be considered one of the league’s best. Whenever you watch the Stars play, it’s usually their blue-line that gets the ball rolling, led by both Klingberg and Heiskanen.
No one knows for certain how the Stanley Cup Final will play out for certain. But one thing we do know is that the Stars and Lightning present a scintillating matchup for hockey fans from far and wide. I for one will blue glued to the TV to see how it all unfolds. Will you?
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images