The Dallas Stars’ playoff hopes hang in the balance and are in their own hands–exactly where they want them to be.
Saturday night was a “playoff” game against the Minnesota Wild. Dallas had broken a record-tying six-game home losing streak two days earlier against Carolina, and was clinging to the eighth and final playoff seed in the west by the slimmest of margins.
The Wild were one point behind the Stars in ninth, but the teams had the same number of wins on the season, which is the first tie-break. The stage was set in the (latest) battle for eighth.
A Dallas win, and they’re three points up and move into seventh past Edmonton, but the Oilers have a game in hand.
A Minnesota win or overtime loss, and Minnesota would take the slot from the Stars with one more or even points, and have an additional win to break the tie.
So the fans came out in sellout fashion to watch a Saturday night battle royale (no cheese) between the franchises with a shared history. There were quite a few folks sporting Wild sweaters in the house, and a couple of old Minnesota North Stars jerseys.
I had to wonder who those people were rooting for.
Dallaswould jump on the board only two minutes in as Steve Ott tipped home a smart pass from Loui Eriksson on the back door of Wild goalie Nick Backstrom. Dallas clearly outplayed the visitors in the opening period.
The second frame would start even faster for Dallas, but was almost a carbon-copy of the first-period goal. This time Mike Ribiero would draw the crowd, and feed a cross-slot pass to a waiting Steve Ott who somehow got behind the Minnesota defense again for a clean tip into the empty net. Dallas was up two-oh with 38 seconds gone.
Then a double-minor penalty to the Wild put Dallas in the favorable position of having a clean sheet of ice and four minutes of power-play time. They moved the puck well, but apparently didn’t get the memo that you have to take shots on goal in order to score.
Four minutes later the winds shifted, and the tide started to turn against the home team.
Minnesota would out-play Dallas through the balance of the second, and knot the game with two goals in less than two minutes. The Wild would continue to press the attack and have the Stars on their heels through 40 minutes of play.
The Stars would bend, but they didn’t break–And that’s where the resilience comes into play.
Dallas had been in a similar situation 48 hours earlier when facing the Hurricanes. They gave up a shorthanded goal in the first, and trailed after 20 minutes. But they stuck together, fought through, and battled to a 3-2 win over Carolina, breaking that home slide I mentioned earlier.
This is a club depleted of top talent. I overheard a team official Thursday going off about the lack of having a full NHL roster of forwards. Four front-line players are out, and have been for extended periods of time this year. Jere Lehtinen is day-to-day, while Brad Richards is ahead of schedule as he rehabs a broken wrist. Their return is welcomed but brings with it the challenge of moving people around.
So with an ever-changing roster of veterans and young call-ups, Coach Dave Tippett has been trying to win games and keep his team in the playoff hunt. It makes for different line-mates game-in and game-out, creating a lack of chemistry that is vital to success in hockey.
But it also makes for unsung heroes. Two nights prior it was new Stars Brendan Morrison and Steve Begin, who netted their first tallies with the team, and stopped the bleeding at home.
Saturday night that hero was Nick Grossman, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime to give the Stars the 3-2 victory, a two-point margin over Minnesota, and a vital win in the tiebreak.
This is what Coach Tippett is looking for from his lineup of weary warriors. With an aging Mike Modano valiantly trying to fill a role more suited of years past, Dallas needs everyone’s contribution to the war effort if success is to be had.
After a six-game home losing streak that put their playoff hopes in jeopardy, the Stars have started showing the resiliency to bounce back from adversity and fight for the chance at Lord Stanley’s Chalice.
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