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Dallas Stars’ 2019-20 timeline: A fired coach, a pandemic, and a Stanley Cup Final

The Stars are going back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. How did they get there? It’s been a busy season…

Preseason

Sept. 13, 2019: The Stars opened training camp in Frisco under coach Jim Montgomery, four months after losing to the Blues in Game 7 of the second round. Defenseman Julius Honka requested a trade from the team. General manager Jim Nill said the team would not be answering any questions about the status of defenseman Stephen Johns, who missed the 2018-19 season with post-traumatic headaches.

Sept. 28: Dallas beat Colorado in the preseason finale to finish the exhibition season with a 4-3-0 record. While prospect Thomas Harley was the biggest surprise in training camp, the Stars saw warning signals along the way. They were outshot in five of the seven games. Their power play was 2 for 23. They had a minus-5 goal differential.

Regular season

Oct. 3: In the season opener, the Stars allowed a goal by former Dallas forward Brett Ritchie as they lost to the Bruins, 2-1.

Oct. 18: Courtesy of a 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh, the Stars dropped to 1-7-1 on the season, tied for the worst start in franchise history. The Stars’ power play was 1 for 25 on the season, and the only forward scoring goals was Roope Hintz. Anton Khudobin said the team needed to get angrier (“Just getting tired of losing,” Khudobin said. “That’s how.”), and Montgomery lamented the lack of passion in his group.

“You can try everything,” Montgomery said. “You can try motivational tactics. You can try everything. But it’s got to come from within. Ultimately, if there’s a puck between you and I, I’d bite your leg off to get it.”

Oct. 29: The Stars trailed the Wild, 3-0, with about five minutes left in the third period, before storming back with six answered goals, including a hat trick by Alexander Radulov. The comeback — against last-place Minnesota, at the time — could have saved some jobs as a loss would have dropped the Stars to 4-9-1.

Instead, it was part of a stretch in which the Stars went 14-1-1 under Jim Montgomery, when the Stars rifled up the standings to third place in the Western Conference.

Nov. 10: After the Stars’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Jets, Montgomery criticized the team’s two highest-paid players: Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

“You need your No. 1 center, you need your No. 1 left winger to step up and do more,” Montgomery said.

Are you disappointed with the scoring of the top players right now?

“Very disappointed,” Montgomery said.

Are you seeing signs of progress?

“No. Are you?”

Montgomery apologized to Benn and Seguin the next day in Calgary.

Nov. 25: The Stars tied the franchise record with their seventh straight win, a 4-2 win over the Golden Knights. They lost the next night in Chicago, denying them sole possession of the record.

Dec. 10: Citing “unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League,” the Stars fired Montgomery and installed Rick Bowness as the interim head coach. Not much was revealed about the reason for Montgomery’s dismissal, except that it had nothing to do with on-ice results.

It was Bowness’ first time as a head coach since 2004, having served as an assistant coach since. That night, the Stars beat the Devils to usher in the Bowness era.

Dec. 22: The Stars lost 5-1 as home to Calgary, dropping the team’s record under Bowness to 3-3-1 entering the Christmas break. The stretch included a lackluster performance in Tampa Bay, and an embarrassing blowout in Florida.

Jan. 1: The Cotton Bowl hosted the Winter Classic between the Stars and Predators, which featured a crowd of more than 85,000, the second-largest crowd to ever watch a hockey game. The game lived up to the hype, with the Stars erasing a two-goal deficit, punctuated by Alexander Radulov’s one-timer on the power play that gave Dallas the lead.

The Stars pulled away for a 4-2 win over Nashville, making the southernmost outdoor game a memorable one for Stars fans, complete with the team photo at center ice.

“That was something I’ll never forget,” Seguin said.

Jan. 3: Montgomery announced he would enter an inpatient program for alcohol abuse, and said the Stars made the right decision in firing him.

Jan. 18: Johns returned to the lineup for the first time in 22 months after dealing with a head injury. Johns played 17 games in the regular season, and was one of three finalists for the Masterton Trophy.

Jan. 25: A source said the Stars were a candidate to play preseason games in China in September 2020, potentially becoming the latest NHL team to play games in Asia.

Feb. 13: Andrew Cogliano became the third Stars player to play their 1,000th NHL game, joining Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski. Perry and Pavelski were the biggest offseason acquisitions for the Stars last summer, and both were counted on to provide big moments in the playoffs, along with veteran leadership during the regular season.

Feb. 16: With an overtime loss to Ottawa, the Stars tied the Blues for first place in the Western Conference. For a team that began the season 1-7-1 and fired its head coach in December, it was a remarkable position to be in with a month and a half left in the regular season.

March 10: With a 4-2 loss to the Rangers, the Stars lost their sixth straight game, the longest losing streak of the regular season. The team suffered from a lack of offense (nine total goals during the streak) that plagued them all season long as they played solid defense, but couldn’t find goals for long stretches of the regular season.

March 12: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL suspended their season.

Postseason

July 13: After a four-month break, the Stars started training camp in Frisco, practicing 10 times across two weeks before traveling to Edmonton to enter the NHL’s Western Conference bubble. In training camp, the big focus was to generate more offense by getting the defensemen more involved and creating more offensive zone time.

Aug. 5: The Stars were blown out by Colorado, 4-0, in the second game of the round robin. The loss meant the Stars lost each of the last nine times they took the ice (six times in the regular season, one exhibition against Nashville, and twice in the round robin) and cast doubts over the team’s ability to compete once the first round started. Dallas beat St. Louis in the final round robin game to move from the No. 4 seed in the West to No. 3.

Aug. 16: Pavelski scored a hat trick, including the game-tying goal with 12 seconds left, against Calgary, helping the Stars to a 5-4 overtime win that evened the first-round series with the Flames at 2-2. Without Pavelski’s heroics (and Alexander Radulov’s winner in overtime), the Stars would have fallen into a 3-1 hole.

Aug. 20: Entering Game 6 of the first round, the Stars had a chance to eliminate the Flames. Then Calgary jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. Dallas responded with seven straight goals, including four by Denis Gurianov as the Stars punched their ticket to the second round.

Sept. 4: Joel Kiviranta scores a hat trick in Game 7 against the Avalanche, including the game-winner in overtime to send the Stars to the Western Conference Final. It was the first time since 2008 the Stars had advanced as far.

Sept. 14: Gurianov’s game-winner in overtime of Game 5 in the Western Conference Final won the series for the Stars, as Dallas advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2000.

Find more Stars stories from The Dallas Morning News here.

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