The thinning of the Western Conference herd has been a slow and painful process, but one by one the names have been crossed off the list. First came Edmonton. In, you know, October. The Avalanche dropped off in February, followed by an injured St. Louis team. Columbus held on for as long as they could but succumbed. Minnesota hung around until last week. Last night Calgary lost in San Jose and unless they win out and get help, they're done.
Six teams down. One to go.
After last night, the rest of the league considers Dallas, a team who just lost five games of a seven game home stand, to be that team. Death's long bony finger is now pointed squarely at the Stars. How long can they hold on?
The Stars are seemingly competing against magic lately. Nashville recently came back from a 3-2 third deficit against the Bruins to win in overtime. They trailed Detroit early and beat them 3-1. They trailed Buffalo 3-1 in the third period, tied that game and won in overtime.
It's the same with the Ducks who are on a 9-2-1 run right now, winning five of those in overtime with just as many heroic, come from behind efforts as Nashville has, including two against the Stars that we won't soon forget.
Is it luck? Is it poise? Is it some inexplicable cosmic conspiracy? Whatever it is, the Stars have to find a way to match it on Saturday or they will follow Calgary and all the others that have tumbled off the edge of the map.
What can they do? What must they do to get in now? (And face the Canucks?)...
Win out? That would be one way to go.
They say the Stars do not technically control their own fate now but we're reasonably sure 18 points would get them into the post-season. The more pragmatic approach would be that the Stars need to win at least five of their remaining nine games and probably manage a Bettman point in one of the four losses. 5-3-1. 97 points. That's .611 hockey over a stretch of three weeks. They've done that before this year, but not for a while, and not often.
The game in Anaheim (which is on a back-to-back, of course) is now must win, as is the game on Saturday in Nashville. If not then earning 97 points might only get you lost tie-breakers and a broken heart.
For a little context, last year on March 24th the Stars had played 73 games, going 32-27-14 with 78 points and were 9 back of 8th place. We were already shoveling dirt. They have seen a remarkable improvement this year over last and yet because Dallas led the division for 80 days and occupied first place in the Conference near Christmas, our expectations, and theirs, have been raised considerably.
Last season, March 19th was the last time 8th and 9th place teams exchanged places. From March 20th on, the top eight in the West were the top eight in the West. Let us hope for the Stars sake that it's much different this year.
Ducks: @Predators, @Blackhawks, Avalanche, Flames, @Sharks, Stars, Sharks, Kings, @Kings.
Predators: Ducks, Stars, Canucks, @Avalanche, Red Wings, Thrashers, Blue Jackets, @Blues
Stars: @Predators, @Coyotes, @Sharks, @Kings, @Ducks(back to back), Blue Jackets, Avalanche, @Avalanche, @Wild.
All the Stars must do is finish above the Ducks or the Predators. It's sounds so reasonable, doesn't it? Yet like like last night, the execution is the hard part.
Puck Daddy had a good "Death Watch" this morning. The situation is the same in the East with only one team below the cut line still fighting for life (Carolina). Of course, if Dallas were in the East they'd have their eye on that 6th seed with a game in hand on Montreal.