While tonight will feature an NBA Game 7 where the Boston Celtics will attempt to rewrite history and join their fellow Beantown-representing Red Sox as the only teams in their respective sports to win four consecutive times to take a seven-game post-season series, a somewhat less unique, but still impressive, story is unfolding in the NHL Western Conference finals.
The Dallas Stars have quietly taken two consecutive games from the Vegas Golden Knights and will return to their American Airlines Center home in Texas tonight seeking to draw even. Like anyone facing adversity, they rely on music for inspiration. And as NHL.com’s Josh Clark penned this morning, among the tunes they are drawing on includes one best known by someone who has little to do with Texas:
The first song that likely comes to mind for Stars fans is “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks, or others might prefer “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers when it comes to generating a momentum-shifting serenade.
But there’s also something special about “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi. It’s a regular in the rotation at American Airlines Center and always brings the building to life. The lyrics focus on remaining hopeful and optimistic through life’s various challenges. Plus, the chance to belt out, “Whoa, we’re halfway there, whoa oh, livin’ on a prayer” alongside 18,500+ fans can be overwhelming wonderful.
And indeed, they are halfway to a comeback. But unlike baseball and basketball, they can also draw on inspiration from comebacks past. On four prior occasions, a team down 0-3 has rallied to win a Stanley Cup playoff series. The first was during World War II, when Syl Apps led the Toronto Maple Leafs to four consecutive wins in the finals. I fondly remember the second, which had the New York Islanders, in just their third NHL season, fresh off a qualifying round upset of the big city Rangers with an overtime goal by J.P. Parise (yes, he was Zach’s dad), knocked off the Pittsburgh Penguins. And in the next series, the conference finals against the Broad Street Bullies and defending champion Philadelphia Flyers, they nearly did it a second consecutive time. At the time, the Flyers would trot out the venerable Kate Smith as their good luck charm for special games. Smith was long known for her inspiring rendition of “God Bless America” that had graced airwaves since the days of radio. Though elderly at the time, she would occasionally show up in person at the Philadelphia Spectrum with the crowd roaring in appreciation. The Islanders tried to woo her with flowers when she appeared to sing her famous song before the decisive Game 7.
It didn’t work. And 35 years passed before it happened again, ironically, it was the Flyers who knocked off the Boston Bruins, rallying from an 0-3 deficit in Game 7 to underscore the accomplishment. And in 2014, the Los Angeles Kings rallied to knock off their California rival San Jose Sharks en route to an unlikely run to the Stanley Cup as an 8 seed.
These Stars were competitive during the regular season, and are led by the Knights’ former coach Pete DeBoer. And as Clark continued, that maturity and insight is finally paying off:
(T)he Stars adapted to handle the Golden Knights’ game plan. Vegas committed 24 giveaways in Game 5, the 3rd most by any team in this year’s playoffs. Many of those can be attributed to the Stars’ systematic forecheck and aggressive attack.
They played a relentless brand of hockey and never gave Vegas a moment of comfort. They have now won consecutive games for the first time since May 9-11. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights have lost two in a row for the first time since March 28-30.
“We have a lot of belief in this room that we can beat anyone on any given night,” Stars forward Max Domi said. “That being said, the only way we’re going to do that is if we come ready to play, do all of the things we talk about and execute the game plan to the best of our ability. We’ve been able to do that the last couple of games, and we just have to keep that narrow mindset.”
And when the chips have been down, the Stars’ resillience has grown:
Jake Oettinger’s return to form has been nothing short of impressive, too. He’s now 4-1 with a .949 save percentage in his career in elimination games. That includes a .941 mark in the past two victories.
The Stars are finding their groove, something they’ve done rather frequently in the latter stages of a series this postseason. In the first three games of a series, they are a combined 2-7. But what about for the final four? 8-1. The ability to adapt and adjust to an opponent’s style and strengths has helped Dallas in carving its path to this point.
What’s more, the Dallas fan base is noticing. And they’re hungry. Want to guess which of their teams have won a title in the last 25 years (save for the Arlington Renegades)? The 2011 Mavericks of Dirk Nowitzki. And the Stars of 1999. That other pro football team? Nope, they’re now 27 years title-less and counting.
So Big D will be rocking tonight, hoping to get their own Game 7 spotlight with a return trip to Vegas on Wednesday night as the NBA winners prepare for a Thursday night start to the Finals. So long as no politicians are in the stands, I’ll be rooting for them.