The Pace Quickens In The Western Conference Playoff Race

Big Joe and the Sharks are charging hard to take back the division lead.

One thing is for sure: If the Dallas Stars can qualify for the post-season this year, they will really and truly have earned it in a very tough way down the stretch. With the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis and Blues and Nashville Predators comprising six of their remaining ten games, Dallas has the toughest strength of schedule among teams battling for the final playoff spots in the West.

The players are staying upbeat though, even after two tough defeats at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets. They are happy to have a such a big chance this late in the year.

I just really like where we are," Sheldon Souray told the DMN. "We've proven to ourselves that we can win games if we just stick to our game plan, so now we have to go do that."

The Stars are enjoying a much needed three day break right now that should allow some injured players to get back into the lineup Tuesday when Phoenix comes to town, and as everyone expected, things have tightened up considerably in the standings while they wait.

With 10 games remaining the Stars obviously control their own destiny, but everyone just can't help but scoreboard watch these days, and it's been really amazing to see how incredibly fast the other teams battling for these spots have closed the gap on Dallas. We'll take everyone's last five games, just to quantify...

Team Last 5 Games
LAK 4-1-0
CGY 3-1-1
COL 4-0-1
PHX 3-1-1
SJS 3-1-1
Total: 17-4-4

17-4-4 is .760 hockey. 38 of the last 50 available points have been picked up by this group to move them into this absurd pileup with 10~ games remaining. We kept wondering if the pace was going to quicken. It took longer than anyone thought it would, but the answer is unequivocally yes.

91-92 points was the projected cut for much of the season. The events of the last 10 days or so now move it to about 94, meaning the Stars must get 11 out of the last 20 available to them to grab that seven or eight seed. 5-4-1 would do the trick.

A complete look at what everyone in the race has left at this point after the jump...

Here is the "grid". The remaining games for everyone in this race (from which Chicago has now elevated itself once more) are presented here along with the strength of schedule for each at the bottom.

TEAM DAL PHX COL SJ CGY LAK
POINTS 83 83 83 82 81 82
GR 10 9 8 11 9 10
Mar. 19 ANA
Mar. 20 PHX DAL CGY LAK COL SJ
Mar. 21
Mar. 22 VAN COL PHX BOS MIN STL
Mar. 23
Mar. 24 CGY SJ VAN PHX DAL BOS
Mar. 25 STL
Mar. 26 CGY SJ COL DAL VAN
Mar. 27
Mar. 28 EDM VAN ANA LAK CGY
Mar. 29 SJ PHX
Mar. 30 VAN CGY COL EDM
Mar. 31 SJ ANA DAL VAN MIN
Apr. 1
Apr. 2 EDM
Apr. 3 SJ CBJ DAL
Apr. 4
Apr. 5 NSH CBJ LAK VAN SJ
Apr. 6 STL
Apr. 7 STL MIN NSH LAK ANA SJ
Strength of Schedule: 0.602 0.555 0.573 0.557 0.57 0.559

The Sharks are in the best position here. Not just because they're the Sharks and they possess the best roster in the group, but because they have 11 games remaining and have the greatest number of games against these same teams left. Seven of their eleven remaining contests are directly against these teams, including back to back games with Dallas.

Tomorrow in particular might be the most interesting day on this schedule aside from the final day of the season. These six teams all play each other. Dallas and Phoenix. Calgary and Colorado. San Jose and Los Angeles. If two of those games go to overtime, the loser of the game that doesn't is going to be in a spot of trouble.

Dallas has their fate in their hands, but they could also influence the fate the Calgary Flames quite heavily. The Stars have taken the first two meetings with Calgary (albeit both in overtime/shootout) and could deal an irrevocable blow to them with two more. Similarly, though seemingly less likely, the Stars could deal the Sharks a pretty serious blow in their hopes to win the division with two wins on 3/31 and 4/3. The first, however, is on the second night of a back to back after the club leaves Vancouver.

Any way you slice it, the Stars do have the toughest road ahead. If they take care of business on the remainder of this home stand, things will look much rosier next Monday morning.

"We're going to be in a big grind here over the next 10 games, and that's going to dictate our fate," said Brenden Morrow Friday after the Chicago game. "So it's going to be nice to have a couple of days where you could just recharge the batteries and be ready for that hard push."

We're all hoping those charged batteries make for a quick start Tuesday night. The Coyotes finish their schedule with Minnesota, Columbus and Anaheim (with the Blues sandwiched in there) and the Stars need to make it hard on them while they still can.

"The good thing is teams are chasing us. We are not chasing any teams," Stephane Robidas told ESPN Dallas. "We're still third in the conference, that's the positive sign. We're in control. We just have to win our games."

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