Amazing what one win will do as a fan for your favorite team's playoff chances.
All of a sudden, the "hard" part of the Stars remaining schedule is behind them. Ahead of the Stars are the Blue Jackets, the Avalanche in a home and home, and a Sunday finale up in Minnesota. All teams that have since been eliminated from the playoff race.
That doesn't necessarily mean these three teams won't make things hard on the Stars. Especially Colorado, which hasn't lost at home to the Stars since the second to last game of the year back in the 2008-09 season, when it took a circus Mike Ribeiro shootout goal to defeat them at the Pepsi Center.
But if (and understand it's still a HUGE if) the Stars can complete this come-back-from-the-dead rally and finish with 97 points, the Blackhawks will be forced to win 3 out of their final 4 games and the Ducks will be forced to win 2 of their final 3 games.
And as you'll see after the jump, both teams still have some pretty significant hurdles to overcome in the final week of the season.
First, let's look at the remaining schedule of the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
Chicago Blackhawks (42-28-3, 92 points, 8th seed)
Tuesday: @ Montreal
Wednesday: vs. St. Louis
Friday: @ Detroit
Sunday: vs. Detroit
On the surface, it would appear that Wednesday night game against the Blues would be a layup, considering St. Louis was long ago eliminated from playoff consideration.
Not to mention, the possibility the Red Wings might use those final two games of the season series to rest key players if they're locked into the 2 or 3 seeds.
But don't underestimate the rivalry factor here. Both the Blues and Wings would love nothing more than to knock their hated rival out of the playoffs. For Detroit, there's added motivation from the standpoint they're 1-2-1 against the defending Cup champions and could possibly draw them as a first round opponent.
Throw in the fact that the Hawks have been maddeningly inconsistent and you can see that this gauntlet will be a tough one for the Hawks to run through.
Anaheim Ducks (44-30-5, 93 points, 7th seed)
Wednesday: vs. San Jose
Friday: vs. Los Angeles
Saturday: @ Los Angeles
San Jose's already clinched the Pacific and LA will be without Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar for these two games, so this seems to be a relatively easy gauntlet for the Ducks, right?
It's possible the Sharks may take this opportunity to rest key players. But as Razor mentioned during Thursday night's 6-0 beatdown of the Stars, they've eschewed fast starts and coasting into the playoffs in favor of hitting the playoffs running on all eight cylinders this year. And I don't see any reason for them to change that approach this week.
And there's still that 2nd seed and home ice advantage for the second round that's in play for the Sharks. That advantage helped them to a five game series win over Detroit last year. Didn't do much for them going forward, but I digress.
As for the Kings, they'll be missing quite a bit of firepower in those final two games. And for that reason, expect many pundits to predict they'll get bounced in the first round, leaving them still searching for their first playoff series win since 2001.
Still, as we all saw on Saturday afternoon, the Kings don't mind playing grind-it-out defensive hockey where they lean heavily on Jonathan Quick.
And there's the intangible we all saw Sunday night when Anaheim didn't seem to have the jump in the third that we've been used to seeing from them in the previous two weeks.Perhaps they're running out of gas.
And karma, as evidenced by the two disallowed goals late in the third period last night against the Stars.
Again, I'll reiterate that the odds are still stacked against the Stars. But they have put together winning streaks of six games from November 24th through December 4th and five games from January 9th through January 20th.
And there's also this nugget of information that Brad shared with the staff via email today:
The 2009-10 Stars were mathematically eliminated from consideration for the playoffs on this date last year.
I'd rather take these long odds the final week of the season than take being officially eliminated.