By Martin Iheke
The Dallas Stars continue to make a run at the playoffs, but they need to be more consistent. Beating teams that are better than them on paper is good, but losing to teams who are some of the worst teams in the league is bad and this past week demonstrated that. Last Tuesday night in our nation’s capital, the Stars took apart a good Washington Capitals team, 5-0. Goalie Kari Lehtonen was superb with 35 saves notching his fourth shutout of the season. “I just try to stay extra calm and wait for the players to make their moves,” Lehtonen said according to NHL.com. “I’m fortunate to have a few good games in a row here and hopefully I can keep it going. It’s fun playing when there’s a lot on the line and every game is so huge. We just have to keep taking this one game at a time and try to win the next one,” as he continued. Forward Dustin Jeffrey, who has not played much for the team this season and is considered a “depth” guy, had his biggest game as a Dallas Star scoring two goals. This one was good.
The bad? Traveling to play the Carolina Panthers two nights later and lose, 4-1. The Stars had plenty of chances early to grab a lead, but could not get anything past Hurricanes goalie Anton Khudobin. He was terrific with 34 saves. After the game, head coach Lindy Ruff commented on how poor the Stars’ penalty killing was giving up two goals that swung the game. “It was a lack of aggression,” Ruff said according to NHL.com. “We sat inside too much. We gave them room and we gave them time. Even at 2-0, the way we were playing, we still had a chance to get back in it. But when you get down three goals, you start playing a high-risk game,” as he continued. You cannot lose to teams like Carolina this late in the season while you are in the midst of fighting for a playoff spot. It just cannot happen. Unfortunately, the Stars let it happen.
How about some more good? The Stars go into Tampa last Saturday night and defeat the Lightning, 5-2. Captain Jamie Benn was a man amongst boys in this game scoring two goals and recording an assist. The Lightning cut the Stars lead to 3-2 after the Stars were up with 3-0 at the end of the second period. Fortunately, goals by forwards Vernon Fiddler and Antoine Roussel in the third period were enough for the Stars to pull away. “What we talked about after the second was that we won the first and they won the second, and now it’s time to make a statement that we were going to take it to them and not sit on the lead,” Ruff said according to NHL.com. “At 3-2 any bounce can beat you. But we got on our toes and we confronted every puck and every battle we were there. We didn’t give them a lot of time. As confident as you can be about the team playing a good period, you want to go out there and see them do it, and I thought they did it,” as he continued. There is one troubling sign. The power play for the Stars has been abysmal as of late including in this game. They had a five-minute power play and could not score. They had a four-minute power play and could not score and in some of those opportunities, they were not even close to creating any real scoring chances. This too needs to change, but overall this was a big win that put them alone in the last playoff spot in the West with a point ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Want more of the bad? The Stars would have a chance the next day at the Florida Panthers to increase their lead over the Coyotes but failed, losing the game, 3-2. The Stars went up, 2-0, thanks to Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin but could not step on the throats of a horrible Panthers team. “Tough points to lose,” Seguin said according to NHL.com. “It wasn’t a good game for us. No excuses, even though it was back-to-back. We expect better. At this point in the year, being tired is just a mental thing. We’re not going to use fatigue as an excuse. We’ve got to find a way to get points,” as he continued. I could not agree more with him. If the Stars do not get into the playoffs, they can look back on getting swept by the Panthers and blowing other games they should have won. As you can see there was a pattern of the last week: win (good), loss (bad), win (good), loss (bad). The losses were against two bad teams and that is not good. As of now, the Stars still lead the Coyotes by one point with four games left.
They will try to get back on track entering the final week of the regular season at home against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night, then play the makeup game against the Columbus Blue Jackets the next night with the Jackets starting the game up, 1-0. The St. Louis Blues will come to town on Friday night which will be the final home game of the regular season before the Stars head to Phoenix next Sunday night to face the Coyotes in what could be a “win-and-you-are-in” game. Hopefully about this time, next week, we are talking about the Stars clinching a playoff spot for the first time in six years.
4/8 vs Predators 7:30 P.M.
4/9 vs Blue Jackets 7:30 P.M.
4/11 vs Blues 7:30 P.M.
4/13 @Coyotes 8:00 P.M.