One of the worst years in recent memory is finally coming to a close. Nearly everyone has been affected by the events of 2020, including the NHL. The shortened regular season, bubble playoffs, and 2020-21 negotiations changed the status quo. The Dallas Stars had an even wilder season after playing in more playoff games than anyone.
News of the 2020-21 season starting in January, new division rivals, and fan attendance in some areas means the clouds are finally parting on a hectic calendar year, and we can hopefully look to a brighter 2021.
First Game of the Decade
Stars fans have dreamed of seeing their team participate in a Winter Classic since the first one in 2008. They finally got their wish. The Stars hosted the Nashville Predators at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas during the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2020. 85,630 fans descended on the Fair Park grounds to hold the 2nd most-attended game in NHL history.
The Predators scored twice on a major power play and tried to spoil the Stars’ party. Blake Comeau sent the packed stadium into a frenzy after scoring late in the 2nd period. The crowd erupted even more after three goals in rapid succession sealed the 4-2 victory for the Stars. The game was better than expected for fans. Unfortunately, March had to happen.
Regular Season Cancelled
On March 12, the league delivered an unprecedented blow. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL had suspended regular-season games indefinitely. The Stars’ final game was a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers. Then came the waiting game as several months passed without NHL hockey.
After several months of negotiations, the NHL determined a revised playoff format that included playing in a bubble. On July 30, 142 days between games, the Stars played an exhibition game against the Nashville Predators ahead of the 2020 Playoffs.
Wild Finish to Stave Off Elimination
The Stars had struggled to get past Round 2 for a decade. In their second-round matchup against the Colorado Avalanche, The Stars’ recent history of struggling to finish off a second-round series nearly repeated itself. After having a 3-2 series lead last season, the St. Louis Blues eliminated them in double overtime of Game 7. The Stars dropped Games 5 and 6 after storming out to a 3-1 lead in the series against the Avalanche. Game 7 was no different than the Stars’ strange history with Game 7s. The Stars played in another overtime and high-scoring affair that the franchise is no stranger to.
In Game 7, the Avalanche tried everything to quiet the Stars and had a 3-2 lead going into the 3rd. In the most important period of the season, Alexander Radulov tied the game on the power play. The Avalanche’s Vladislav Namestnikov scored with 3:40 remaining to seemingly put the nail in the coffin on the Stars’ season. However, Joel Kiviranta became the hero after tying the game 10 seconds later and then scored the overtime winner. The series winner sent the Stars to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2008.
Stanley Cup Final 20 Years in the Making
The Stars faced a lot of uncharted territory in 2019-20: the first outdoor game, bubble playoffs, and their first series against the Vegas Golden Knights. The low-scoring Western Conference Final was in contrast to the high-scoring series against the Avs. The Stars only needed nine goals (against the Golden Knights’ eight) to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Denis Gurianov cemented his name in franchise history after blasting a one-timer from John Klingberg to win Game 5 in overtime and send the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. However, the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Stars in six games to win the Cup. However, the Stars had provided fans with a welcome distraction for two months as the year dragged on.
New Year, New Division
The plans for the 2020-2021 season are now set in stone. The Stars will stay in the Central Division but will be joined by five new teams: Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes, Lightning, Florida Panthers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Nashville Predators.
The Stars will play 56 games, eight against each team – meaning there will be eight Stanley Cup Final rematches with the Lightning, so get ready for these games to get heated. The top four teams in each division will make the playoffs, so there will be a sprint to the finish line. The Stars may also have some new rivals by the end of the season.
The division realignment also includes an all Canadian division, due to border restriction, so two new divisions will have a mix of Eastern and Western Conference teams. That means, there will be no Conference Final but a Stanley Cup semi-final before the Final.
Getting the Band Back Together
The Stars have kept most of their team from last season with a few exceptions. Corey Perry signed with the Montreal Canadiens, Mattias Janmark signed with the Blackhawks, and the team added Mark Pysyk.
Even though Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop will miss significant time due to injury, the Stars’ main core from their 2020 playoff run will return for next season and these players now have the experience to win the Stanley Cup.
Looking Forward to a Better Year
This year has been hard on everyone, with barely a break from bad news. However, we had some good news when a deal was reached to play the 2020-2021 NHL season. The first games are on Jan.13, 2021, while the Stars play at the Panthers on Jan. 14. Each series of games will be in pairs of two to reduce travel. Fans only have to wait another two weeks before the Stars return to the ice.
The American Airlines Center will hold 5,000 fans per game to enforce social distancing protocols. As 2020 ends, and the Stars get ready to start the 2020-21 campaign, fans can look back on good and bad memories. It will be difficult to top the events of last year and 2021 may be unpredictable, but hopes for a Stars Stanley Cup is enough to look forward to a new year.