The Dallas Stars are in the Stanley Cup Final.
Let that sink in for a minute

The team that went 1-7-1 to start the season, and which was almost counted out by even their own fans before November, is four wins away from one of the most coveted trophies in sports. It seems like just one more bizarre twist in the seemingly endless rollercoaster ride that is 2020.

In some ways given the Stars were on a six-game slide heading into the break they, more than most, can be said to have benefited from the season pause.

For this season, and perhaps even for the last few seasons, fans have questioned the way the team is constructed.  Management seems to prefer to sign players past their prime rather than attempt to spark something by bringing through some of the talented young players in the pipeline.

Finally, however, the Stars seem to have hit on a combination that has lead to success.

Rookies have ignited the offensive spark. Denis Gurianov leads all rookies in the playoffs in both points and goals and sits only behind Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks in total goals scored. His 4 goal performance in game 6 against the Flames being a particular highlight. Joel Kiviranta, who only played a handful of games in the regular season, stepped into game 7 against the Avalanche and promptly scored a hat-trick. It’s fair to say the Kiviranta has arrived on the NHL scene. Gurianov and Kiviranta scored two of the three goals to take the Stars to the final in Game 5 against the Golden Knights. Gurianov unleashed a 110mph one-timer in overtime that Robin Lehner had little chance on. Miro Heiskanen too, not a rookie, but only just 21 years old and in his second season leads all defensemen in points and has probably been the best defenseman in the bubble.

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While the rookies have been flashy and eye-catching it’s the veterans the are the backbone of the team. Jamie Benn has lead from the front. Never the most demonstrative of people Jamie Benn leads by example. It’s been all too apparent as the tournament progresses that where Jamie Benn leads the team follows. If you could win the Stanley Cup by sheer force of will, then the Stars would already be back in Dallas with Lord Stanley. Joe Pavelski also deserves much credit. He was quieter in the regular season than the value of his contract would suggest but he was brought into the team for the playoffs and has proved his worth here time and again. His on-ice performance has been outstanding with the same number of goals (9) as Denis Gurianov and one Nathan MacKinnon (who gifted hockey player though he is, you would think if you listened to the series on NBC, was the second coming of Wayne Gretzky himself). It’s off-ice, however, that Pavelski seems to have had the most impact.

The former Captain of the San Jose Sharks doesn’t wear a letter for the Stars, but his steadiness, experience, and leadership have put the team over the top nonetheless.

No list of key players would be complete without a mention of Anton Khudobin, the career backup goalie has kept the Stars in the fight game after game.  Unfortunately for Stars fans, his performance must surely put the beloved goalie in the conversation for a starting position with another team when he hits UFA status in the off-season.

Many, including myself, have been critical of Jim Nill, and Rick Bowness after the departure of Jim Montgomery. Credit too them, however, they had a plan and it was executed well. The Stars might never be the flashiest team in hockey, the might be often overlooked on the national stage.

In the end, it doesn’t matter because they are in the Stanley Cup Final, and in this most topsy turvy of years, who is to say they won’t come back to Dallas with Lord Stanley’s cup.

Featured Image: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
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