The Dallas Stars have life and now it's the Chicago Blackhawks who will do the watching on television to see how their fate is decided. The Detroit Red Wings played a pretty terrific game and bent, but did not break. Stars fans owe them a debt of gratitude, distasteful though the thought may be.
I spent the better part of those two and half hours this afternoon thinking about what I would put here in this space should the result have been somewhat less than favorable. We were going to say "Well, let's enjoy this last game because there won't be any more until October" and the like. We were going to skirt the big picture stuff and try to focus on tonight. Tomorrow would be a better time to start the autopsy. Now, however, we have the most meaningful game since May of 2008 on our hands.
The autopsy has been tentatively rescheduled, but could be back on with anything less than a regulation or overtime win. Their fate still stands upon the edge of a knife, and the task at hand is a daunting one: Win your fifth game in a row. They've done that a couple of times already this season. Can they do it again?
Minnesota has been a friendly opponent this year. The Stars are 3-0 against Minnesota and have outscored them by a total margin of 12-3 including two shutouts. Their last to the Xcel Energy Center was a 4-0 shutout in early January, the first game with Jamie Langenbrunner back in the lineup.
Dallas has not won both games at Xcel Energy Center since the disastrous 2001-2002 season, so as much as Minnesota has allowed itself to be kicked around in Dallas, they have protected their home ice reasonably well.
The Stars finished out their season in Minnesota last year as well, a 4-3 shootout win with Jamie Benn getting the winner. That will not do today, and a tie game late could result in some pretty crazy decisions before Marc Crawford...
We already talked about it this week, but if the Stars should find themselves in overtime, they will likely make the decision to pull Kari Lehtonen from his goal in an even strength situation. That's a low percentage play, and quite a spectacle, but it would need to be done because getting to the shootout eliminates the Stars from the playoffs and would be a bitter, bitter pill to swallow after the events of today in Chicago.
The Stars have several things to their advantage that could help them avoid that situation.
Jose Theodore is starting in net. He is 3-11-4 against the Stars in his career with a 3.48 GAA and a save percentage of .886. That sounds promising, but never underestimate a goaltenders ability to take over a game unexpectedly.
Next up is the injury situation, which will see Martin Havlat sit out the game with an upper body injury, and Cam Barker will be out as well. Center John Madden is questionable. They still have Miko Koivu, who scored twice against the Stars on December 4th, and a roster full of names you recognize, unlike the Colorado Avalanche the other night.
There's one name on there that should scare the excrement right out of you, and that's Andrew Brunette. He has 34 career points against Dallas and every one of them has been of the devastatingly clutch variety. He is the Shane Doan and Milan Hejduk of his team, and someone we all need to keep an eye on tonight. Beware.
The Dallas lineup is expected to be the same as the last two games, so if Nicklas Grossman returns, it will be in the (potential) playoffs.
In quirky meaningless stats, Sunday on the road has been a good situation for Dallas this year. They've defeated St. Louis, Minnesota, Detroit and Anaheim on the road on Sunday afternoons. No losses. Sunday at HOME has produced only losses (Columbus, Kings, Phoenix).
So that's it. We'll see you on the other side with a game recap and then tomorrow with a whole new world of possibilities or...the other thing.