Handshake Line: Great Southern Trendkillers

Jamie Benn and Kari Lehtonen played big roles in returning Dallas to postseason competition. - Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the great successes of the NHL's early 90's southern expansion strategy have come of age, and look poised to lock horns in the years to come.

Five seasons is a long time, particularly in a league that has amongst the most parity of any in North American professional sports. Four different clubs claimed the Stanley Cup in that span, while 27 teams earned postseason births. For a franchise that was born into success as it arrived from Minnesota for the 1993-94 season by making the playoffs 12 of its first 14 seasons 'Deep In The Heart', to share the ignominious company of Atlanta/Winnipeg and Edmonton had to sting. In many ways the new uniforms donned this season are synonymous with rebirth for the team that began after being rescued from bankruptcy by owner Tom Gagliardi in 2011, and the Stars now appear to have the makings of a playoff mainstay in the years to come.

There are very few traditions other teams have that I'm jealous of, but the Stars "Puck Off" fight song by Pantera is near the top of that list. The way the crowd feeds off the ferocious riffing from legendary metal guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott is a sight to behold, and while in earlier years the song best identified with the team's crunching defense captained by Derian Hatcher, it now pairs exceptionally with a fast lineup that has no problem getting in the face of opposition and stirring it up. The Stars needed a shakeup to overcome the franchise's recent trend of fast starts with late season flameouts, and this group killed it.

Walk

While skating with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry for the Canadian gold medalists in Sochi, it was clear that Jamie Benn would be a force to be respected and he did not disappoint. For the Stars to have the comfort in trading aging then-captain Brenden Morrow to Pittsburgh last season, Benn rewarded their faith with his best season to date netting 34 goals and dishing 45 assists. Against the Ducks he took over for stretches in games, leading Dallas with four goals and bearing the standard as Anaheim did their best to limit linemate Tyler Seguin. General Manager Jim Nill has a pair of fantastic pieces to build around, and as the acquisition of Seguin showed, he has the smarts and nerve to make the moves necessary to continue to turn this team into a contender.

Five Minutes Alone

It was widely predicted before the series, and Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel certainly lived up to their billing as pests par excellence. The two played vital roles in knocking the Twins off their game in games three and four with post-whistle shenanigans, and each contributed three points over the life of the series to serves as offensive threats as well with Cody Eakin. To be able to contribute in the multitude of ways they did, all while fitting into the Stars speedy identity should serve as a warning to the rest of the league. Claude Lemieux made a career of being an agitator and scoring big goals in the playoffs- Dallas appears to have a combination that can and will grow into doing that and more in the years to come.

Mouth For War

Despite admittedly discounting the Dallas depth at the beginning of the series, as I now speak the truth about the group it's really the dogged determination that was most impressive. Trevor Daley proved himself a worthy successor to Stephane Robidas in not only leading the defense with two goals and three assists, but as a physical force and possession driver all series long. Alex Goligoski not only chipped in a goal and three assists, but was a team high plus seven and had the squad's second best Relative Fenwick For percentage behind Daley. Shawn Horcoff lead the team in scoring (one goal and five assists); Valeri Nichushkin was dangerous in the early games at only 19-years old; Colton Sceviour has the best looking last name on a hockey jersey. This is a unit that will only improve with the benefit of experience and additional tinkering from Nill.

Cowboys From Hell

Though the start of the game is the same with Dallas emerging through a neon lit star to take the ice, the feel has come a long way from the days at Reunion Arena. Stars fans created an absolutely hellish environment, from the college-inspired standing during the action to the constant booing of the Ducks key players, it served as a major home rink advantage. It will be nice in the future to have most all the talk be about the wild atmosphere provided by the fan base as opposed to slurpee quality ice as a defining characteristic of Dallas at home in the playoffs. An additional tip of the hat is necessary as well for how classy and supportive the response was to the season-ending injury suffered by long time Star Robidas in game three.

Cemetery Gates

Believe the word, this was a difficult series for the Ducks, and one not many fans were looking forward to. With good reason too, as Dallas showed over the course of six tough games. The biggest takeaway is something that Kid Ish wrote about the play style during the series- it ran the gamut from big body board battling, to rock 'em sock 'em physicality, to special team grinding, to wide open fun and gun. Though certain play styles clearly favored one team over the other, outside of the excellence of execution in the third period of game five there never was the sense of one team being wholly superior to the other. The real exciting thing is knowing that this series could well serve as an appetizer for postseason meetings in the future, with perhaps much bigger stakes on the line.

For now though, the Ducks turn from Dallas without a tear in their eye. While a date with a California rival awaits in the Pacific Division Final, the memories will still remain of the gritty, challenging series. As a hockey fan, watching how this far beyond driven Stars squad evolves over the coming seasons will be a pleasure, and assuredly a pain for the rest of the league.

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