Stars top Predators in OT to advance to second round of Stanley Cup playoffs


DALLAS - The playoffs are a minefield, scattered with ways to fail on the path to the Stanley Cup.

There's off nights from goaltenders and more from power plays, a dominant top line or a dormant one. There are also ways to make heroes in the playoffs, through the contributions from trade deadline acquisitions or from rookies, the games from third-liners and once-healthy scratches.

It's difficult and surprising and expectedly unpredictable, and this is how it's supposed to go.

On Monday, in the Stars' 2-1 overtime win in Game 6 over the Predators, there was a thriller after a heart-stopping third period and up-and-down extra frame, a gasp for air from Nashville via Pekka Rinne and a suffocation from Dallas and Ben Bishop.

Now, the Predators have been extinguished. A new challenge awaits the Stars later this week.

John Klingberg scored the game-winning goal 17:02 into overtime. The Stars advanced to the second round of the NHL playoffs by beating the Predators at home, dispatching of the Central Division champions and advancing to face the St. Louis Blues. Blake Comeau also scored for the Stars, who won their first playoff series in three years. Bishop made 46 saves in a spectacular effort. Rinne made 49 of his own.

Monday night's game was the low-scoring game people have come to expect from the Stars. It was hardly a facsimile of the previous two games, when Dallas scored five goals each in rolling over the Predators. In those games, the Stars pounced on power-play opportunities and capitalized on Nashville mistakes. Those evaporated Monday night.

It was Dallas making the mistakes early on, sloppy in their own zone and leading to Nashville chances and 19 first-period shots on goal. A Jason Spezza turnover became an Austin Watson goal after P.K. Subban's shot from the top of the circle.

Comeau's goal in the second period tied the game at 1, whipping a shot past Rinne to finish a 3-on-1 rush up the ice. It was Comeau's first goal of the series, and a welcome addition from the Stars' shutdown line of Comeau, Andrew Cogliano and Radek Faksa.

Bishop took it from there, even in a harrowing third period.

The Vezina Trophy finalist was superb on Monday night. He made four saves in the 35 seconds leading up to Comeau's goal. He denied Colton Sissons on a third-period breakaway. He blocked aside Filip Forsberg's rush attempt moments later. The crossbar denied Calle Jarnkrok's shot on a yawning cage.

The formula has worked all year long for the Stars: get Bishop's goaltending and chip in offensively. Now, they'll need it for a little bit longer.

The Stars have passed through their own mines this season. They needed time to adjust to new coach Jim Montgomery's systems.

"October and November was painful going through practices because it didn't make us better, whereas our practices now, I think they make us better," Montgomery said before Monday's game.

A slow start on the road conjured memories of past struggles away from Dallas.

Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were ripped publicly by Stars CEO Jim Lites. Alexander Radulov was benched for a period for talking back to Montgomery, then for a full game when he was late for morning skate. Montgomery lamented the "culture of mediocrity" in Dallas.

Two of the team's top four defensemen missed the vast majority of the season, and the team lost John Klingberg and Mats Zuccarello for extended periods of time with broken appendages. Bishop was hurt four times, and Anton Khudobin stepped in admirably.

The Stars know about landmines, self-created or not.

To hurdle the obstacles, Montgomery asked the Stars to improve: their intensity and their identity, their preparation and even their practice habits.

"Our practice habits have gotten better throughout the year, our work habits, our professionalism," Montgomery said. "That's a comfort level and understanding what the expectations are and meeting them, both staff to players and players to staff, players to players."

This series, Montgomery has asked for his team to get better in each game. As the games tick away and the teams become more and more familiar with each other, coaching adjustments either fail or succeed. They either stay or they are tossed. Then it's up to the players.

And they got the Stars to the second round.