By Will Martin
Last April marked the only time in the history of the American Airlines Center that neither home tenant, the Mavericks or the Stars, played beyond the regular season leaving many a worker, concession person, valet driver, police officer, and usher how to spend an extra six weeks off.
For the Dallas Stars the streak of not getting in reached five years. The Mavericks prior to last year were a perfect 12 for 12.
Here we are at the cusp of the deciding month for the transient city of Dallas with a newly added twist.
How about another transient city with two teams in basketball and hockey who hold the key in the fates of what may or may not happen come tax time for our local guys.
Three weeks have now passed the scare with Rich Peverley on March 10th. He is slated to make a full recovery as he ponders his future with hockey and whether or not his heart will literally let him.
It was my conclusion that once you got past the week that was with Rich you were bound to have an emotional letdown as a team. Borrowing from their tenants, the Dallas Stars blew a 3-1 lead on Match 14th against the Calgary Flames, and then proceeded to get outscored 20-5 in the next three road games at Winnipeg , Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.
At one point the Stars fell five points behind the Phoenix Coyotes despite having two games in hand (meaning the Stars have two more games than Phoenix to play and make up lost ground). Back-to-back gritty 3-1 and 2-1 victories over the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets looked to place the Stars within striking distance of the #8 seed Phoenix.
Then came a back to back defeat on the road to the Blackhawks 4-2 despite fine play by Ryan Garbutt who netted both of the Stars goals. Which brings us to Friday night March 28th against the Nashville Predators led by that Edward G Robinson lookalike, Barry Trotz, now coaching in his 15th season.
Prior to this game I recall a game played (2-6-09) where I sat up close to the glass and was privy to a 10-2 thrashing of the New York Rangers. There were a whole bunch of goals spread out over seven Stars players. That was the last time that much productivity had happened until…
With secondary scoring truly in need separate from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin the Dallas Stars used seven, count ’em-SEVEN, different players to knock in a goal for a 7-3 triumph in running their season record to 35-27-11. Then a roadie back at St. Louis on March 30th with a chance to inch within one point if the Minnesota Wild could disrupt the Coyotes on their ice.
Ryan Garbutt and Vernon Fiddler placed Dallas ahead in the first period 2-0. Colton Sceviour, Alex Chiasson, and Trevor Daley netted a point in period two offsetting what Patrick Hornqvist and Michael Del Zotto did for Nashville. 5-2 after two.
Valeri Nichushkin and Cody Eakin lit the Texas lamp within nine seconds for a 7-3 triumph and one very content locker room afterwards.
“I thought we were patient,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “There wasn’t a lot going on really if I looked at the first seven minutes. We were playing the way we wanted to. I thought that part was good.”
“We knew they played last night. These back-to-backs are tough,” Ruff said. “It’s tough turnovers for a lot of teams. If you get down, you try to chase the game, it usually just gets worse.”
Predators coach Barry Trotz thought otherwise.
“They looked fresh. They jumped on us, but they’re such a good transitional team,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “I didn’t think our forwards did a whole lot. There were only a couple of guys that I thought were really, really good up front and that’s really where it all started for me, was the poor puck management.”
When the score got to 5-3 did you think momentum was going to change sides?
“We did and we were coming,” Trotz said when scoring in the final period. “I really felt we were going to get the next goal and then we don’t hold up on the draw, guy jumped through, think it was Nichushkin, jumped through. He got the puck and they just threw it at the net and we deflected it into the net on Pekka. To me, that was the one that killed any momentum we had in the third.”
Vernon Fiddler with a sage summation about spreading the wealth.
“Obviously, us role guys want to chip in a little bit more,” Fiddler said. “It’s not easy to score in this league. These are the games where we need to all chip in, you see guys like Garbutt and Roussel chipping in, and Valeri Nichushkin got one in off a D-man. It’s nice to get some depth scoring. At the end of the day, we’ve got to continue to do that. The big guns need some help with that, and it takes a little bit of pressure off of them.”
With the win Dallas headed for a plane for a back to back with St. Louis on the 30th. Could lightning strike twice on the road in Missouri?
“We got the game tonight. We have to go out and get the game tomorrow,” Ruff said. “We need to score and St. Louis doesn’t give up a lot, but if you get two or three you can get yourself in a ballgame with them, although they’ve really been on a run here lately.”
Kari Lehtonen made 25 saves as his record between the pipes improved to 28-18-10. He looks to be having no ill effects since suffering a concussion on March 8th against the Minnesota Wild.
Trevor Daley, Ryan Garbutt, and Alex Goligoski were your three stars of the night. A night where everything appeared relevant in a primary and secondary sense. Chances are the finale in Phoenix on April 13th might very well be for the right to take that #8 seed and play into the Stanley Cup Finals.
Provided Dallas can get past Washington, Carolina. Tampa Bay, and Florida on the road to begin April. The fact that we can talk about games having meaning in April speaks to the direction Tom Gagiardi, Lindy Ruff, and Jim Nill are going this year and onward.
Please don’t do a Dallas Cowboy maneuver and break our hearts in that very last game.