A 79 day division lead in the uber competitive Pacific has come to an end. No other team will claim such a streak in this division this season but it's meaningless unless the Dallas Stars dig deep to reclaim it and make the playoffs for the first time in three years.
A three game home stand was meant to stem the tide and reverse their fortunes of late but a 1-1-1 record and a new rash of injuries leaves them in the same place they've been for the last three weeks: reeling. Now the Dallas Stars head back onto the road and return to the "scene of the crime", as it were: The Western Canadian road trip.
It was this same road trip, against these same teams in this same order that originally derailed an otherwise magical season for the Stars. They went to Edmonton and won, bringing their wonderful January to a gaudy 7-0-1 record and then went to Calgary the next night expecting more of the same.
That's where things went wrong. 7-4 and 7-1 losses followed, providing a reality check and a bit of an embarrassment for the team and fanbase alike as the All-Star weekend began. Things have only gotten worse from there, as you well know.
Dallas heads back to those same airports. Those same hotels. Those same buses. Those same locker rooms. They go back to those same sheets of ice where this free-fall started. They do so without Brad Richards and a host of others.
It can all end right there in Western Canada where it began, or the nightmare can recur, and the Stars playoff chances can take a gargantuan blow. It's up to the players tonight to turn it around before it's too late. This is a bit of irony they can use in their favor. All it takes is a good start and a little bit of a roll.
One heck of an injury roundup follows...
As the waning seconds of the Columbus/Dallas game ticked off the clock on Sunday and a stunned crowd at American Airlines Center braces themselves for another loss, a curious thing happened. Brad Richards was involved in some manner of collision near center ice and suddenly stopped playing hockey.
Seemingly he was going to complain to the officials about something while we all shouted obscenities that amounted to "What is going on down there, there's still time on the clock??"
Turns out he was injured on the play and will not join the Stars on this road trip. The injuries up to this point had been mercifully contained, apart from Jamie Benn, to third and fourth line guys who are "role players" more than scorers. (Albeit it very important roles, as we're finding out.)
With Richards AND Benn out, that's not so much the case. A team that has struggled to score goals lately even with it's top two lines intact will be hard put once again to break one or two without Mr. Everything in Brad Richards.
Things aren't much different on defense as Nicklas Grossman will also be out for the foreseeable future with a hip flexor injury.
Francis Wathier has been recalled from the Texas Stars. Tom Wandell will see an increase in minutes with centers needed now, and Steve Ott could see time with what used to be the top line. Expect to see some juggling. Trevor Daley might see increased PP time as well as Jason Williams (already).
Presumably Kari Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft will split duties tonight and tomorrow. Last time Raycroft played in Calgary he allowed seven goals, so it will be interesting to see what Crawford decides for tonight.
The league worst Edmonton Oilers and their -56 goal differential seems to offer an opportune moment for the Stars here tonight, but then so did the Blue Jackets on Sunday.
The Stars and Oilers have played three closely contested games this season and the health of the Stars makes them considerably undermanned in comparison to those match ups.
The other thing is that it's hard to sweep a season series from a team. Until Dallas did it with St. Louis this season they hadn't done it since the 2007-2008 season. The Oilers seem due for a win here and their recent exploits have them every bit as motivated as the
Texas Dallas Stars are tonight.
The Oiler coaches reportedly scolded the team harshly on Sunday and then the general manager did the same way for good measure on Monday too. (Imagine Joe Nieuwendyk addressing the team in such a manner...it could happen).
It's not the first time they've been treated that way either, and they usually respond with a good stretch before they return to their losing ways. Dallas could be on the receiving end of that uptick tonight if they're not careful.
Tambellini told the players not to worry about getting the top pick in the draft and what the media says. He wants that team to climb out of last place. You can bet there's no place they'd rather start than with Dallas tonight.