The Stars sent a lot of messages on Saturday. Now, we'll wait to see if they were short-term messages or long-term messages.
In beating a very good St. Blues team two nights in a row, the Stars showed themselves and the league that they can hang pretty darn well in a viciously competive Western Conference. By winning two very tight games, the Stars move to 13-8-1 (27 points). Those points put them right in the mix with Columbus (14-7-0, 28 points), Vancouver (12-7-3, 27 points), Phoenix (11-5-5, 27 points) and St. Louis (12-7-3, 27 points). That shows just how much the standings can change, and it also shows just how important every point is.
So simply winning these two games shows the Stars a lot.
But, to win in the way they did, could mean just a little bit more. They came back in both games after allowing the first goal. They came back in both games when trailing after two periods. You just don't do those things on a regular basis in this league. Dallas is now 4-6-1 when allowing the first goal. It is 3-6-1 when trailing after two periods. The Blues, meanwhile, now are 9-3-3 when scoring first and 7-2-1 when leading after two periods (with these last two losses included).
So this was a testament to their ability to stick with the game plan (and also to the fact that their goaltender can be downright amazing at times). As much as it didn't look like it at times on Saturday, the Stars are getting better at playing defense. They are getting better at fighting for Kari Lehtonen. They have shown in the three games since laying an egg in Toronto that they can embrace a game where they have to be just a little bit better on defense.
How much of that is the goalie and how much of that is improvement we'll see in the future, but it was clear they felt a need to help him out at some point in this game _ and that is a big deal to a young(er) team that still is growing. The held the Blues without a shot on goal for the first 9:29 of the third period when they were busy winning the game, and that is important.
Just as amazing, however, was the fact the Stars scored a road power play goal. Dallas has actually been pretty good at home with the man advantage, ranking 12th with 12 goals in 56 tries (21.4 percent). But they entered this game 1-for-31 (3.2 percent) to rank 29th in the league (I know, who could be worse? NJ at 1-for-43).
But when they went on a third period power play because Alex Steen got his elbow up while burying Loui Eriksson behind the Blues' net, this team needed to help out the goalie and get him a win on a night when he sorely deserved one. And Richards and Eriksson did that. Richards has been getting impatient at times with the power play, but he put a perfect pass through a crowd and found Eriksson in the right circle. Eriksson then had enough time to control the puck and snap one in under the crossbar for the game-winner at the 5:30 mark.
The Stars and Lehtonen had to hold on through the final 14:30, but Lehtonen said he thought the team got tougher with the lead.
``Usually you sit back there, but I thought we played harder,'' Lehtonen said. ``I thought we were very aggressive.''
So is this a team that can win on the road? They are 5-5-0 now and have won two road games since that debacle in Toronto.
Is this a team that can play with the best in the West? They are 3-0-0 against the Blues (with one win in a shootout) and have also defeated San Jose, Phoenix and Detroit.
Is this a team that can win consistently? It is 5-1-1 in its last seven games.
The Stars have talked so much about getting better and fixing problems that a lot of us have forgotten that they were supposed to be one of the bottom five teams in the West. They have ownership issues, the defense isn't good enough, the road problems have stretched back two seasons.
So these two games were big. They are the difference between being in the muck at the bottom or being in the muck at the top. They are a chance for the Stars to feel good about themselves for a little while.
It doesn't get easier. They are at Carolina on Monday, then come home for games against Washington and Minnesota (still good seats available, by the way _ Call 214-GO-STARS) and then head back out to Phoenix and San Jose. They are officially in the midst of 10 road games in a stretch of 15 games overall, so there is much to be proven still.
But, again, we come back to whether or not these are short-term messages or long-term messages. For right now, the players (and fans) can simply appreciate that there are improvements being made. Whatever the future holds, it sure makes the present that much easier to handle.
_ The Stars had 30 shot opportunities (23 shots on goal, five shots that were blocked, and two that missed the net), which seemed low. The Blues finished with 68 (36 shots on goal, 17 that were blocked and 15 that missed).
_ St. Louis won the battle of the faceoff circle with 32-of-55 (58 percent). The Stars were actually OK after going 4-of-17 in the first period.
_ Adam Burish had five hits and won 9-of-14 faceoffs.He also had a goal disallowed because of a distinct kicking motion.
_ Mark Fistric (groin) and Krys Barch (foot) missed the game, and Severin Blindenbacher was a healthy scratch. Blindenbacher is expected to travel with the team to Carolina, and the guess is they will not call up another player. Barch skated today and is getting better, coach Marc Crawford said.