When the Columbus Blue Jackets last visited the American Airlines Center on February 13th they dealt the Dallas Stars a crushing blow to their season, though it was a full week before anyone knew it. Sami Pahlsson hit Brad Richards on the chin (and only the chin) in the final seconds of that one and although the All-Star has been back in the Stars lineup for twelve games he has not played like his dominant self since.
So it's fitting that in their return to Dallas they can put the final nail in the Stars coffin tonight with a win and finish the job they started seven weeks ago.
The Stars, however, can extend their season (and hope) another 48 hours with a win tonight. Dallas survived a vicious Anaheim onslaught in the final seven minutes on Sunday as the only way the Ducks could put the puck in the net was illegally. A Chicago loss that same day gave life to flickering playoff hopes and the Stars look for the same combination tonight with the Blue Jackets in town and the Blackhawks in Montreal to face a struggling Canadiens team.
There's a dangerous tendency among Stars fans to think that Dallas has played through the tougher part of their schedule and that the remaining four games against non-playoffs teams should be somehow "easier."
Ask the Capitals, who needed overtime to beat them last week, or the Hawks, who needed a shootout to beat a Rick Nash-less Columbus how "easy" it is.
Nothing is easy this time of year...
Continued after the jump
The good news is that Rick Nash will not be in the lineup tonight. He had struck twice already against Dallas in both Columbus wins and has 23 points in 29 career games against the Stars. The Jackets told media on Sunday that he was probably against Dallas but then didn't make the trip.
The other Star-killer, Steve Mason (first star of the February 13th game) has a more ambiguous status. He missed the club's last game and Matheiu Garon was pulled after allowing four quick ones. We'll cross our fingers but as with Lubomir Visnovsky on Sunday, we bet he plays. Some guys just love to play Dallas.
The Stars have a 13-5-1 record against the Central, though ironically, Columbus (the worst team in the division) is the only one against whom the Stars don't have a winning record.
Dallas has scored only five goals against the Jackets this season and four of them have been scored by Brad Richards, who is in a bit of a funk lately (though he did score in Los Angeles on Saturday). Chances are good that the Stars will need someone other than Richards to finally break through and carry the load against what is usually a very stingy Columbus team.
Five straight scoreless power plays haunted Dallas when last these teams met. The good news is that the Jackets have now allowed seven PP goals over their last seven games, perhaps giving the Stars a chance to make special teams count this time around.
Kari Lehtonen will be in net. Adam Burish (stress fracture, leg) and Nick Grossman (sprained MCL) are out. Mark Fistric could be back in. Brian Sutherby continues to suffer from back spasms and is out.
It's another must win. Every scenario a Stars fan can dream up these days has the Stars earning a requisite 97 points. Once again, they just simply have to find a way. The Jackets played a very structured, defensively sound game in Dallas in February and could frustrate the Stars by similarly clogging things up again here. It's up to Dallas to hold the fort, not allow them nearly 40 shots like last time, and get a lead, lest they find themselves battling yet another team content to sit back, pile four or five bodies in front of their netminder and just wait. (a la PHX, NSH, LAK recently...)