Dallas Stars emerge from eventful first half in solid shape

Sports

The Dallas Stars celebrate their 4-2 victory over the Nashville Predators at the end of the NHL Winter Classic hockey game at the Cotton Bowl, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

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DALLAS (AP) — There was the 1-7-1 start for the Dallas Stars, who had such high expectations after an impressive playoff run last season.

When they started consistently winning again, there was the shocking coaching change unrelated to anything on the ice.

Dallas then opened 2020 with another comeback victory on New Year’s Day, outdoors at Cotton Bowl Stadium before 85,630 fans — the second-largest crowd ever to see an NHL game.

“Forty-one games, and it seems like we’ve been through 100,” center Andrew Cogliano said.

This has already been an eventful regular season for the Stars, and they are only halfway done.

Through it all, the Stars (23-14-4, 50 points) are third in the Western Conference standings after the 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators in the Winter Classic. It was the third win in a row for Dallas, which came from behind in the third period in each of those games.

“Our team still hasn’t even shown our true potential. Lately, especially after the coach change, we’ve been very inconsistent and all over the map, and trying to put our identity back together,” center Jason Dickinson said. “So I think we’re on our way there, and we’ve still got half a season to go. It’s about time for us to really hone in on that stuff.”

Dallas will be back inside, at home in the American Airlines Center, to start the second half of its 82-game regular-season schedule Friday night against Detroit.

The Stars are 6-3-1 since second-year head coach Jim Montgomery was fired Dec. 10 for unspecified unprofessional conduct. They beat New Jersey 2-0 that night when Rick Bowness, in his second season in Dallas, took over as interim head coach for the rest of the season.

Bowness has coached in more NHL games than anyone — 2,238 overall, 473 as a head coach — and in five different decades after Wednesday’s win to kick off the new year.

“I didn’t want to be put in this position because you don’t expect it. None of us saw it coming, so when it was thrown at us, we were all completely in shock,” said Bowness, adding that he came to Dallas with the goal of helping the Stars and Montgomery win the Stanley Cup.

Now Bowness is calling the shots on the bench for the Stars, who last April made the playoffs for only the third time in 11 seasons. They won a six-game series against Nashville in the first round, then went seven games in the Western Conference semifinals before falling to eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis.

Bowness said players were shocked as much as the other coaches about the dismissal of Montgomery, but that they have all together invested in what they have to do to win games.

“It happens in sports. You lose players, guys get traded. … Obviously, your coach, that doesn’t happen all the time,” goalie Ben Bishop said. “When the coach gets fired or let go, you still have your job to do. And I think guys, you know, continue to do their jobs. And obviously the players are the ones who go out there and execute the game plan.”

Bishop and other Stars players say that transition was made easier with Bowness, with the 64-year-old Canadian’s experience and an upbeat personality a bit different than Montgomery’s.

“To take over that role midway through the season speaks volumes to what kind of coach he is,” Cogliano said.

After that horrendous nine-game start to the season, the Stars went 14-1-1 over the next five weeks. They then had an 0-3-1 slide before two wins in a row preceded the sudden coaching change.

“We have an idea where when we’re good, how we want to play and our compete level. And just a lot of trustworthy players out there wanting to play the right way,” said veteran forward Joe Pavelski, one of the Stars newcomers this season. “Up to this point, I would say we’re a pretty resilient group.

“The coaching change and different things like that, guys have just stuck together, stayed resilient,” he said. “Hopefully, it’ll just keep making us better.”

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