After a brilliant road trip, the Dallas Stars are poised to clinch a playoff spot in front of the home crowd on Tuesday night.
When we last spoke, hard times had hit the Dallas Stars. A mostly disastrous 1-3-1 home stand failed to generate any space between themselves and the other teams vying for the wild card slots in the NHL’s Western Conference. What faced them was a daunting jaunt through western Canada, highlighted by the first two stops against division-leading Winnipeg and Calgary.
What ended up happening was pretty amazing. The Stars throttled both the Jets and the Flames to set the road trip on its course. They then culminated the voyage by coming back to beat the Oilers in a shootout, and then almost doing the exact same think to the Canucks before falling in a shootout. Before you knew it, the Stars had accumulated seven of the possible eight points on the trip, dropping their magic number to one point in the process.
So their objective is now very simple. The Stars simply need to get to overtime in one of their last three games against teams that have nothing left to play for, in terms of playoff possibilities. To be sure, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Minnesota will be playing for nothing more than pride as the NHL’s regular season convenes. Simply put, if the Stars can’t muster the effort to clinch, preferably at home on Tuesday night, then they don’t deserve to be in these playoffs.
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Of course, the eyeball test suggests something quite different. A stumble on their most recent home stand notwithstanding, Dallas has been playing a very solid brand of hockey, and it starts from the net on out. This team won’t wow you on offense like the 2015-16 bunch did. That team could mostly outscore their problems, which was fine until the later rounds of the playoffs presented themselves. No, this iteration of Stars’ hockey is built on defense and goaltending. Further, they’ve shown that if they can get a touch of depth scoring, they’re very hard to beat. In short, they have an outstanding chance to be a very tough out once the tournament gets underway.
The only trifling matter that would a create a problem down the road is the lower body injury to goalie Ben Bishop that he sustained during the win in Calgary. It’s hard to say whether or not the front office is in any hurry to get him back on the ice, but clinching a playoff berth as soon as possible would allow them to get Bishop as much rest and recovery as needed. Anton Khudobin’s been great in his stead, but the Stars are going to need both goalies if they’re going to make any kind of playoff run. Given Bishop’s injury history, it’d be great if they could just shut him down until he’s as ready to go as they can get him.
But, first thing’s first. They’ve got to take care of business. The best way to do this would be to alleviate any doubt and do it in front of the home crowd versus Philadelphia. If recent home games against the Flyers are any indication, the crowd will be teeming with with their fans. It’d be nice to shut them up and give them something to go home with. Yours truly will be in attendance in the 300 section where he belongs. After the ups and downs of this season, it’d be a truly remarkable accomplishment to see this team clinch in person.