(I’m not going to say ‘I told you so.’)
Last night, for the second time this week, the Stars faced off against the Coyotes. The stakes going into this game were high, for both teams.
The Coyotes managed to slip into a Wild Card spot, thanks to their win against the Blackhawks on Friday. They had the momentum of wanting to keep that spot working for them—but the physical demands of playing back-to-back games working against them. The Stars were coming off a small break, not having played since their loss to the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday.
The Stars got on the board fast in the first period thanks to Ray Whitney, who sunk a feed from Jordie Benn to net his seventh goal of the season.
Whitney’s goal lit a fire underneath the Coyotes, who played quickly and aggressively after the Stars took the first lead. At times, they made the Stars look slow, and the Stars are not a slow team.
Both teams were fairly even when it came to shots on goal, but Phoenix’s backcheck was working overtime, and had impressive coverage on the Stars. With 33.2 seconds left in the second period, Seguin snapped the puck to Benn off the dot and Benn passed neatly to Daley, who slapped it in for a goal.
The goal was eventually credited to Nichushkin, not Daley—but I’ll disagree with the NHL, here. Nichushkin did poke the puck back into the goal, but only after the puck rebounded off the back of the netting. It would appear to have been a goal before Nichushkin touched the puck. Either way, the Stars led 2-0 at the end of the second.
The third period saw an optimal scoring chance for Dallas, who had a 5-on-3 advantage after Shane Doan was called for interference against Erik Cole and Mike Riberiro was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Dallas failed to take advantage of the opportunity and their power play unit seemed underwhelming the entire game. Failing to score on a 5-on-3 is like someone offering you free cake that is also free of calories and saying “No thanks.”
The small upshot to this is that Dallas’ PK did perform well throughout the game. Eakin, Dillon, Benn and Roussel are really clicking together on the penalty kill, and hopefully that’s a trend that continues.
With only 16 seconds left in the game, Phoenix managed to get on the board thanks to a snap shot from Radim Vrbata. But they failed to get the extra goal needed to force overtime, and Dallas won 2-1.
With that win, Dallas slips into the Wild Card spot vacated by the Coyotes and sits pretty as the number 8 seed in the West.
The trick will be to see if they can keep it. The Canucks are currently in the slide to end all slides. I don’t really see them being a renewed source of competition for the Wild Card spot. The LA Kings are in a similar situation, and could potentially slip out of the assured playoff spot and into the Wild Card race. That could make them a challenger, but it could also free up an assured playoff spot Minnesota could slip into—and I would rather see the Stars have to fight the failing Kings then the determined Wild.
Coming back from the Olympic break, the Stars will benefit from having one of their star forwards (Tyler Seguin) well rested. Exhaustion is a concern for Stars Olympians Jamie Benn, Valeri Nichushkin, and Kari Lehtohnen, but Benn and Nichushkin aren’t likely to get the amount of ice time they’re used to seeing with the Stars, and Team Finland is blessed with an abundance of talented goalies. Tuukka Rask is likely to start, and then Antti Niemi, so it’s impossible to say what kind of ice time Lehtohnen will get, if any.
The Stars have real potential to break out after the Olympic break, as they try to hold on to their hard won Wild Card spot. It should be fun to watch.
(I told you so.)