Somehow, someway, the Dallas Stars forced a seventh game in their conference semifinal series against the St. Louis Blues.
Despite getting out shot 37–14, the Stars left Missouri with a 3–2 win to force what many consider to be the best game the playoffs can have this side of the championship — a hockey Game Seven.
Of course, with the way this series is going, it’s hard to say who has the upper hand in this series. Dallas could come out on fire similar to Game Six, or St. Louis’ size and strength could rule the day once again.
But no matter how this series finishes up on Wednesday, this has been a successful season for the Stars.
It can be easy to forget that one year ago, the Stars were far away from the postseason. Despite a surprising showing against Anaheim in 2014, last season was plagued by disappearing offense and a consistently poor defense, which put the team back a step or two in their plan to become regular contenders to lift the Stanley Cup.
But this season has been a reversal of fortune for the Stars. A hot start lifted them to the top seed in the Western Conference. Plus, we have seen this team be able to rely on its defense to win games (i.e. last night), something that couldn’t be said a season ago.
That being said, I don’t think the realistic expectations coming into this season were that this team was going to win a Stanley Cup. Yes, there Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza can strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses, but Dallas’ defensive woes counteract that. This isn’t quite a complete team yet. The Stars will need to add a goalie, whether that’s a free agent or one of their two minor leaguers, and/or a defenseman. If that defense can become more consistent in the offseason and into next year, it’ll be hard to ignore the Stars as championship contenders.
With that in mind, this season ought to be celebrated as an overachievement. There aren’t many people outside of the organization who thought the team could make it this far. But instead, here they are, one game away from their first Western Conference final since 2008. A great run that, even if it finishes Wednesday night, needs to be received as an accomplishment rather than a major disappointment.
Of course, it’s never fun to end a season without a championship and if the season does come to a close Wednesday night, it won’t exactly feel good to swallow that pill.
But championship teams aren’t built in a single season. The majority of champions aren’t of the Leicester City type, going from nothing to champs in one year’s time. Instead, champions are built over time with steps forward and steps back.
And this season, no matter if it ends Wednesday or in June with the players skating with the Stanley Cup, has definitely been a step forward for the Dallas Stars.