For all the potential lingering distraction that came with the stunning news of Jim Montgomery’s firing Tuesday morning, it would have been understandable if the Stars’ minds were elsewhere later in the evening.
Yes, 10 hours after the decision to let its successful head coach go in only his second season for what general manager Jim Nill called “a material act of unprofessionalism,” the team still had a game to play against the Devils — its first under the guidance of promoted assistant Rick Bowness.
Yes, the shock was still permeating throughout American Airlines Center — both on the home bench and in the stands.
But when the puck was finally dropped, it took all of one minute, 42 seconds for Dallas to step up and tuck things away for the time being as Radek Faksa snuck in a wraparound for the only goal Dallas would need in a 2-0 shutout.
“It was a really weird day,” Faksa admitted afterward.
How big was his goal? Enormous. It set the tone for a dominant performance and sent the Stars and their home faithful into a frenzy.
How big was the win? Even more immense. It kept Dallas rolling to a third consecutive victory, and the first for Bowness as a head coach since he led Phoenix in an interim role in 2003-04.
“At the end of the day, the talk was, ‘We know how to play hockey. We’ve got to show up, we need a big effort,'” said veteran Joe Pavelski, who added the Stars’ second goal and his seventh of the season on a redirect later in the first period.
“We showed up with that workman-like attitude and went out and established our game early.”
Vowing before the game to rally around each other and Bowness on a night where they needed it the most, the final result exemplified that “we” in every sense.
In addition to goals by Faksa and Pavelski, Ben Bishop stopped all 26 shots faced for his first shutout of the season. Six different Stars picked up points with Andrew Cogliano, Blake Comeau, Roope Hintz and Alexander Radulov all earning assists on the scoresheet.
At the first intermission, the Stars had as many goals on the scoreboard (two) as New Jersey had total shots, holding the Devils without one for the final 13:17 of the opening frame.
Really, had it not been for a 33-save effort by New Jersey’s MacKenzie Blackwood between the visiting pipes, it would have been even uglier for the slumping Devils, who have not won in six straight games (0-5-1) and find themselves with an interim coach of their own following the firing of John Hynes on Dec. 3.
“Everybody contributed, and it was a great game from start to finish,” said Bishop, who turned aside 16 of New Jersey’s shots in the third period. “The penalty kill did a great job there in the third period, and I thought the guys did a great job sticking with it all three periods and not really giving them much all game.”
For a team like Dallas currently sitting in the top wild-card spot in the West — one point behind third-place Winnipeg in the Central Division — high expectations of a deep playoff run are still very real, and Tuesday was a strong step forward. One that will likely be taken, in a cliche turned reality, one game at a time for the remainder of the season.
“We have an experienced group in here — a lot of guys that have been around a long time,” Bishop said. “In sports, unfortunately, people lose their jobs, and people get traded. You don’t have much time to react, and you can’t sit there and soak it all in. You have to get back to work, and I thought the guys did a great job.
“We did a pretty good job today of sticking to our game-day routine and having our meetings, coming to the rink and focusing on the New Jersey Devils. They can be an explosive team and a very dangerous team, and I thought we did a good job of sticking with our game plan and taking it to them.”
Bishop recorded the 32nd career shutout of his NHL career and his 13th as a member of the Stars, moving into fifth place all-time in franchise history.
They said it
“This is one crazy day. As excited as I am to be in charge again and be behind the bench, this is not the way I had envisioned it nor is it the way I wanted it. I came here to work with (Montgomery) and to work with one of the best organizations in the league with a lot of great players and to win the Stanley Cup with Monty, so as excited as you are, there is a downside. This is not what I came here for. I didn’t need a job when I came here. I had three or four other opportunities, but Dallas was the place I wanted to come to, and Monty was a big part of that — as was Jimmy Nill and the ownership was a big part. In that regard, it’s disappointing.”
— Bowness on earning first win only hours after Montgomery’s dismissal
“It has been a little bit of a crazy day, obviously. Monty was a great coach for us and did some good things for this team, and I hope he lands on his feet and gets another opportunity. He has been a great coach for us, and he is a great hockey mind. We kind of got blindsided this morning. Obviously, Rick Bowness has been around a long time and coached more games than anybody in this league, and the rest of the coaching staff as well. They are very experienced. It is one of those things that is tough when you hear the news, but at the same time, you have a job to do, and that stuff happens in sports. It’s usually pretty quick, and you don’t have much time to talk about it. I thought the guys did a really good job of coming in tonight and sticking to the game plan and working hard.”
Courtesy: Jeff Odom