|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
With the wound still fresh, Texas Stars fans got out the shaving cream today and trimmed up their playoff beards, literal and figurative ones alike.
I personally spent a decent amount of time after last night's game just staring off into space thinking about what this team accomplished this year. I kept coming back to the same phrase that's become a bit of a meme for the media corps: "You've gotta give them credit."
Every coach has their phrases they love to use. Coach Pyle overused the word "phenomenal." Things weren't great; they were phenomenal! Coach Desjardins would dig up, "That's a good team over there," with blistering frequency to describe some club they'd just blitzed 4-0. And Coach Laxdal leans on "You've gotta give them credit." Sometimes it's "our guys" with the credit, and sometimes it's "their guys."
But today, it's 'our guys.' You've gotta give them credit.
We were never quite sure during the early season if this was a team bound for the playoffs or not. Texas would win 8 out of 10 (e.g. Nov 21 - Dec 3) and then turn around and lose 8 of 10 (e.g. Dec 20 - Jan 10). They would follow up that losing bout with two dominant wins against the best team in the West at the time, the Moose, in Winnipeg (Jan 19 and 20). Something clicked right around that point, and the Stars would open a can on the league. Before the Manitoba games, Texas was 20-15-4-2. They went on a season-ending run that saw them go 18-9-4-4. In a division where not every team is on equal footing, I give a lot of credit to a resilient Texas team that battled through to get to overtime in many games where they weren't the better team for much of the contest.
Those overtime contest hardened up this club. It made them believe in themselves. They were never out of a game because they had been there before. They almost relished the opportunity when they had their collective backs against the wall late in a contest. Texas finished the season with 37 overtime games to their name between regular and postseason play.
You've gotta give credit to Curtis McKenzie, Justin Dowling and Travis Morin. The only three players remaining from that 2014 Cup team made their mark in the playoffs. They went 1-2-3 in scoring for Texas in the postseason while playing every single game.
Not really finally, but at least for this post, my goodness, you've got to give credit to Mike McKenna. There will be a future McKenna retrospective post in this space, but for the moment, you have to marvel at what he did to put this team on his back at times to get them to Game 7.
Is there stuff to work on? Sure. Wouldn't you love to be basking in the glory of a championship right now? Absolutely.
But this team surprised you. I can guarantee it did. And you've gotta give them credit.