Dallas Stars: Top seed in Western Conference still within reach

It was almost unthinkable at the beginning of the season, but the Dallas Stars are surging at the right time, and the top seed in the West is possible.

It was an down-and-up few days for the Dallas Stars this weekend. They came out flat on Friday night and had no answers for the St. Louis Blues in an ugly 5-1 loss on home ice. But then they got their grind back on and held off the Chicago Blackhawks yesterday in a tense 2-1 win in front of a (mostly) partisan crowd at American Airlines Center.

While the loss to St. Louis was disappointing, there will be days like that in the course of an 82-game grind. You don’t want to see them happen with the top seed in the Western Conference on the line, but given the fact that the Stars beat the Blues in St. Louis a couple weeks ago, some latitude is only fair. The Blues are, after all, the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The important thing to take away from the month of February is that the Stars have managed to rattle off an 8-2-2 record. Five of those wins have come on the road. Further, the offense–a sticking point all season–has managed to find a bit of a groove. Granted, they’re only ninth in the NHL in total goals for the month, but in a season where they’ve been a consistently bottom-five scoring team, that leap is pretty impressive.

All along, the defense is still humming along on most nights. Only the Boston Bruins have given up fewer goals in the entire league. It’s been stated in this space before, but it can’t be emphasized enough: the Dallas Stars are a defense-first group. It’s who they are. It’s in their DNA at this point. Sure, it’d be fun to see them with the Tampa Bays and Torontos of this hockey world, but it’s doubtful that it would ever work with this bunch. Their offense flows from their defense.

And who can argue with the results? The Stars currently sit in third place in the Central Division just behind the aforementioned Blues and the Colorado Avalanche. Any one of these three teams would be in first place in the Pacific Division. It’s not a reach to say that the road to the Stanley Cup finals goes through the NHL Central. Also, when compared to the same juncture in the season, this year’s Stars (78 points) are outpacing last year’s team (67 points) by a considerable margin. There are twenty games remaining in the regular season. Dallas is only four points out of the top seed in the West. Pretty remarkable when one considers how they started the year.

If you’ve been following this team, you know how that 1-7-1 start has been talked about ad nauseam. But in the story of the 2019-20 Dallas Stars, it is the unavoidable first chapter of the book. They were simply putrid out of the gate. But they turned it around, weathered a coaching change–while they were winning, no less–and have come out on the other side in good enough shape to compete for the top spot in their own division and conference. Given the way they’ve been playing, don’t be surprised if they pull that feat off.

Of course, this is all leading up to bonus hockey come April. The Stars are on a 103-point pace. The eighth place Arizona Coyotes are on an 88-point place. The math is becoming clearer and clearer with each passing day. If you’re a fan of this team, it’s an exciting time. You’ve spent a lot of seasons in the hockey backwoods while other teams and fan bases regularly get to enjoy the greatest playoff tournament in all of sports.

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The impending return to relevance is long overdue and mighty refreshing.

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