By Martin Iheke
The Dallas Stars had a perfect week, last week, despite playing only two games at home. Both games came against two very good teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks so these two wins were rather impressive. Right now, they have a long shot to making the playoffs being eight points out with only ten games to go. The only thing the Stars can do now is to just win out and get serious help. “We put ourselves in a tough spot,” Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said according to dallasnews.com. “It’s going to be agonizing, but we just have to keep taking care of our own end. We can’t do anything about Winnipeg winning …our responsibility is to just take it a game at a time.”
Last Thursday night, the Stars beat the Penguins, 2-1. Goalie Kari Lehtonen was impressive with 31 saves while Stars captain Jamie Benn a goal and an assist. They followed that up with a 4-0 shutout win of the Blackhawks last Saturday night. Lehtonen notched his fifth shutout of the season and his 31st of his career. The Stars were two for three on the power play while killing off both power plays for the Hawks. This was probably one of their better performances of the season and they are doing this with a lot of young players especially on the blue line. “I think there is a couple of things,” Ruff said. “I think (Patrick) Nemeth has given us a little bit of stability on the back end. He and (Jyrki) Jokipakka are both big men and they can handle the physical and don’t get knocked off the puck. Our size is better now and that’s part of it. There’s been some really good support from our forwards coming back which has really helped the defending part and kept the goals-against down. When you see guys tracking back, catching guys at center ice and not giving any space and time, there’s not a lot of time to make plays so, to me, those two things work hand-in-hand.”
The Stars have now won seven out of their last nine games, but they are still eight points back. You just wish they had played like this at the beginning of the season so they would not have to be so far back of a playoff spot this late in the season. “At this point, we’ve just gotta win,” Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski said according to dallasnews.com. “We’ve got to win the next game, we’ve got to win the one after that. We just have to win.”
This team needs to learn how to play when the pressure is on. For the Stars to take that next step, it is the only way. They have the Buffalo Sabres at home on Monday night which is winnable before they embark on another three-game southwestern Canada road trip. The Stars have played very well against the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames who they will play twice. It is conceivable that after next Monday’s home game against the Flames, the Stars could be looking at a seven-game winning streak but not be anywhere near a playoff spot because the Winnipeg Jets and the Minnesota Wild (they both currently hold the wild card spots) keep winning. The Stars went a combined 2-6-1 against these teams which is another reason why they may not catch them.
In some injury news, it looks like Stars forward Valeri Nichushkin could be close to coming back. He has been out for most of the season due to hip surgery he had back in November. Nichushkin has been practicing with the team but is not ready to play in games just yet. “I think he’s getting closer,” Ruff said according to dallasnews.com. “It’s really a decision that he’s going to have to make on when he feels good enough to play. We felt we were getting close to it last week and we pushed pretty hard, but he felt sore and didn’t feel comfortable.” He could play a couple of games with the Stars AHL affiliate, Texas Stars, before joining the team.
3/23 vs Sabres 7:30 pm
3/25 @Flames 9:00 pm
3/27 @Oilers 8:30 pm
3/28 @Canucks 9:00 pm