Stars Need to FInish Strong
While some of the best hockey in the world was recently played at the XXII Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, some of the most important hockey of the NHL season, particularly for the hometown Dallas Stars, is about to get under way.
The Stars get back to play this Thursday, as they host the Carolina Hurricanes. Dallas currently sits in a playoff spot – one of the two new wild card slots – with a record of 27-21-10 for 64 points. That’s the good news.
The bad news – three teams are breathing down their neck, all within at least two points in the standings. There are 24 games left in the season, with 48 possible points up for grabs. Each one of those points are important if the Stars are to break a five-season playoff drought.
The Olympic break actually could not have come at a worse time for the Stars, as the team was on a 6-1-2 run that got them into playoff position. They had momentum. Now it is important to pick up where they left off, something that is not easy after a break of over two weeks.
But, the break did not come without positives. A physical and mental break for most of the team can do wonders during an 82-game marathon season. Kari Lehtonen, Valeri Nichushkin, Jamie Benn and head coach Lindy Ruff all participated in the Olympics, with Benn and Ruff each earning a gold medal for their victory over Sweden on Sunday morning. Lehtonen’s Team Finland won a bronze medal on Saturday over the United States.
The Stars’ fate will come down to the usual suspects – special teams and goaltending. If Lehtonen can play at the same level he showed in the weeks leading up to the Olympics, Dallas will be in every game it plays. Find a way to have solid special teams, especially on the penalty kill, and the Stars should be just fine.
The other big factor is the Stars’ two big guns in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. They have the talent to take over games. Seguin ranks tied-for-24th in NHL goals with 24, and 56 points. Benn is right behind at 22 goals and 51 points. Both need to keep up the pace to give the Stars the offensive punch they need.
Some of the role players also need to step up. Eric Cole, Nichushkin, Alex Chiasson and Ray Whitney need to contribute. If they do, the Stars have more than just a fighting chance to get back in the postseason.
A closer look at the Stars’ remaining schedule:
- 12 home/12 away
- 12 vs. West/12 vs. East
- Two key road trips (Mar. 16-20 – at Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia; and March 29-April 6 – at St. Louis, Washington, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida)
- Six of the first seven games as the Stars start back up are at home. Dallas would be wise to capitalize on that and earn some needed points early. Two of the last three games of the year are direct head-to-heads vs. team the Stars are battling for a wild card playoff spot in Nashville and Phoenix. Dallas’ final game of the season will be at the Coyotes on April 13; don’t be surprised if that is practically a playoff game.