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|Mike Modano leads the Dallas Stars in overall scoring.|
Yet here are the Dallas Stars, a point ahead of Los Angeles and holding three games in hand in the Pacific. Their 31 wins are tied for second most in the conference. If the playoffs opened Thursday, they'd be the second seed in the conference. Yet nobody's saying much about them. Dallas is an oil town. A Texas town. A town of big money, big talk. A Michael Irvin, Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson, Jerry Jones kind of town. A swagger town. There's not a lot of sass or strut to these Stars, though. Scan the NHL's top-20 point accumulators, squint until you go blind, and you won't find a Dallas Star among them. But Mike Modano and Bill Guerin and Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov and Marty Turco remain the poster boys for success. They've lopped $32 million off a unwieldy payroll, shedding themselves of Pierre Turgeon, Valeri Bure, Scott Young and Chris Therien, among others, and in the process have become, as is fashionably said in today's NHL, "tough to play against." A nicely struck balance between offense and defense. As of Wednesday, Dallas was tied for sixth in goal production among Western Conference clubs and tied for second in goals against. "We've become a team," emphasized Tippett, a checking centerman for 721 NHL games during his playing days. "In the best sense of the word. A group of individuals that plays hard for each other. What you need to accomplish that is a willingness from the players to buy in, especially your top players." For so long during the Ken Hitchcock era, which yielded so many great regular seasons but only one Stanley Cup, the Dallas mystique was centered around shutting people down. In Tippett's first season as coach in 2002-03, the emphasis had shifted to lighting people up. This season, they've endeavored, with success, to strike a harmonious chord between the two, and are on their merry way to a second 100-plus-point season in Tippett's three seasons running the show.