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The Stars are Comeback Kids, the Over-the-Hill Gang, and this Stanley Cup Final run is unlike any thrill ride in club history

For the first time in 20 years, the Dallas Stars are back in the Stanley Cup Final.

Let’s get the unpleasant side of this out of the way. A trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020 is different than it has ever been, and so there won’t be any home games in Dallas, won’t be quite the same championship buzz generated even by fans watching their team on big screens at American Airlines Center.

It’s 2020. People go to concerts and sit in their cars. People go to restaurants and look for tables outside away from the other patrons. I would say how people conduct themselves while wearing masks at movie theaters but I haven’t yet fought that battle, so I don’t really know.

Once you slide that business to the side — that this is the best we can do for now and that the National Hockey League, like the NBA, has done a marvelous job that seemed overwhelming just two months ago — then you can get on with the good stuff.

The Stars are back in the Stanley Cup Final.

They are the Comeback Kids. They trailed Calgary 2-1 in the series and then 3-0 in the sixth game before rallying to eliminate the Flames. They trailed Colorado with less than four minutes remaining in Game 7 before clawing their way to an overtime win. And they trailed Vegas 2-0 almost halfway through the third period Monday night before doing their thing once more for a 3-2 overtime win in Game 5 to capture the Western Conference Final.

They are the Over-the-Hill Gang. Jamie Benn, the much-maligned 31-year-old captain, has been reborn in these playoffs, leading the team with his physical play while leading all forwards in scoring which used to be second nature but hasn’t been the last two years. Joe Pavelski, the 36-year-old former Sharks captain who arrived last summer, produced the first hat trick in Dallas Stars playoff history to save the team against Calgary and is tied for the team lead in goals scored. And the man really making it all happen is 34-year-old career backup Anton Khudobin, who had 38 career minutes of playoff time in the nets before being forced to take charge this summer because of Ben Bishop’s injury. The team’s beloved “Dobby” has delivered night after night, never better than the three straight wins to eliminate Vegas when he stopped more than 95% of the Golden Knights' shots.

The great thing about sports is that the hellos will surprise and delight a fan as much as the goodbyes can cause you to cry in the night. It has been 20 years since Dallas went to the Cup Final and in the summer of 2000, it was already an expectation around these parts. The Stars were defending champs, and New Jersey was supposed to be just another notch in the belt for the best local sports franchise, but it didn’t go that way because it almost never goes exactly as planned.

And when the Devils won all three games at Reunion Arena, who knew that Ken Hitchcock had just one more playoff series win to go before he would be shoved out the door and that the team would spend two decades searching for a way back — a search that would include one more kick at the can here by Hitchcock two seasons ago — before arriving with interim coach Rick Bowness in the driver’s seat?

That Stars club of 20 years ago is fully decorated now in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but its time at the top of the mountain was brief. Now a different team that plays in a different building — one that will be used solely for “watch parties” in the coming days — has given fans a thrill ride unlike any in club history.

As is something of a tradition, the Stars didn’t touch the Campbell Cup they were awarded late Monday night as the Western Conference champs because that is not the Cup that anyone cares about or cherishes or writes books about.

If you missed the fun of the comebacks against Calgary and Colorado, if the fact that a kid from Finland (Miro Heiskanen) five months younger than Luka Doncic is this team’s leading scorer and best player, if you haven’t caught the breakout performances by rookies Denis Gurianov and Joel Kiviranta, there’s still time to hop aboard.

This thing took me by surprise (I haven’t picked the Stars to win a series yet but don’t tell anyone) and there’s no telling what lies ahead, presumably against the deeply talented Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Stars needed 28 goals to eliminate Colorado. They beat Vegas with nine.

This is why they play, and this is why we watch, even from a thousand miles away while they skate in an arena with the seats covered by tarps and logos.

It’s what we have in 2020 and there really isn’t anything better.

Advancing to the Cup Final

Find more Stars stories from The Dallas Morning News here.

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  • Interim Head Coach: Rick Bowness

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