I wouldn’t bet even one thin dime that the Dallas Stars will prevail against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final series that starts tonight at Rogers Place, but in keeping with how outside the box this season has been since COVID-19 turned everything upside down, I wouldn’t mind a bit if they did.
Yes, those who’ve been around awhile know first-hand how the Stars made it their purpose in life to put an end to the playoffs for the Edmonton Oilers in five straight post-season series after Todd Marchant beat Dallas in overtime of Game 7 in 1997. Who can forget that? Ken Hitchcock, who later made his way back home to Edmonton for a coaching stint and is still employed by the Oilers as an advisor, and the Stars certainly didn’t.
Dallas beat the Oilers the next five times they met them in the post-season between 1998 and 2003. It was 4-1 in 1998, 4-0 in 1999, 4-1 in 2000, 4-2 in 2001 and 4-2 in 2003. All told, that’s 20-6 in games. On top of all that mostly unhappy history with Dallas, the Stars also have pain-in-the-ass Corey Perry in their line-up. So, what’s with this “wouldn’t mind a bit” stuff, Bronte?
Well, for starters, and I’ve said it often, I don’t cheer for teams, I cheer for stories. The Stars have certainly scripted a good one so far as they brace to face the Bolts. Plus, I’m always a sucker for underdogs, and the Stars have to be considered that. They knocked out the top two seeds in the West in Vegas (4-1) and Colorado (4-3) after beating the Calgary Flames in the opening round.
All the history and underdog stuff aside, there are so many faces with Dallas who are familiar to Oilers’ fans. In all of my seasons covering the Oilers and seeing so much of that history between the teams up close, it’s always been the people and the characters I’ve met along the way that seem to stick in my mind far more vividly than all of the scores and results.
There’s speedy Andrew Cogliano, who never made the playoffs once in four seasons (328 games) with the Oilers on some not very good teams during the Decade of Darkness, but played his ass off and showed up every night – literally. There’s Andrej Sekera, who was good when he was healthy here, which wasn’t nearly often enough over the span of 221 games.
And there’s Taylor Fedun, who shattered his leg so badly in a fall into the boards in 2011 during a pre-season game while trying to crack the Oilers’ line-up, his career was in jeopardy. Fedun only played four games with Edmonton, but he now has 127 games on his NHL resume and seems to have found a home in Dallas after kicking around. You pull for kids like him.
Behind the bench, Todd Nelson, who cleaned up the mess Dallas Eakins left as interim head coach in 2014-15 but didn’t get the job when Edmonton brought in Todd McLellan, is an assistant to Rick Bowness. Derek Laxdal, who coached the Edmonton Oil Kings to two WHL titles and the 2014 Memorial Cup, is also on the Dallas bench. Hell, I first met Laxdal when he was playing for the New Westminster Bruins in 1985-86.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Of course, none of the above makes the Stars a smart bet to beat the Lightning, who have been the class of this post-season in a bubble. If the Stars leave Anton Khudobin to his own devices as they did too often in previous rounds, the Bolts will shred them. Jon Cooper’s team has got so much talent up front and Victor Hedman anchoring the blue line. Stacked front to back, these Bolts. They’re clear favorites.
My brain says Tampa Bay wins in five or six games, but it would do my heart good to be wrong about that. It’s been 20 years since Dallas last made the Stanley Cup final, losing to New Jersey in 2000. It’s been 21 years since Hitchcock and the Stars hoisted the silverware in 1999. For all the times Edmonton’s seasons died against Big D, I still wouldn’t mind seeing Nelson, Cogliano and the rest enjoy a sip in our town.