Tuesday, March 20th, 2012, 7:00 PM CST
American Airlines Center
Opponent Blog: Five For Howling
They don't get much bigger than this. The Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes meet tonight with just 10 games remaining in the regular season, tied at 83 points, vying for a division title and third place in the Western Conference. It's the quintessential four-point game, and both sides consider it a must have.
While the Stars and Coyotes have been preparing for this most important of showdowns for the Pacific Division lead, the San Jose Sharks attempted to steal it away from both of them last night, but fell 5-3 to the Ducks at the Shark Tank. With four teams within just a single point of each other the Pacific is, by a wide margin, the most competitive division in the National Hockey League.
The Division crown is an interesting talking point but the Stars, just two points out of 11th place in the Conference, must think about maintaining a playoff spot at all with just 10 games to go and a two game losing streak in which they were out-scored 9-3 on their minds heading into this one.
Dallas has dropped three of five to the Coyotes this year, and the two they won both went to the shootout. Phoenix has collected eight points at the Stars' expense as a result, to just five for Dallas. The last match-up at American Airlines Center was a 4-1 decision in favor of Dave Tippett's team on February 7th.
Remember that this is an NBC Sports Network broadcast, and that the start time is 7:00pm. The Stars are 1-4-1 on Versus/NBC Sports Network this season.
More on each team after the jump...
"They're both probable for tomorrow," said Gulutzan Monday. "I think they'll be in. They're still a little banged up, but it's nothing that's going to get worse now, it's just something they're going to play with regardless. So unless the injury happens again, they're healthy, for all intents and purposes."
Practice lines were a bit clouded, if that's the case, but the guess is that the Stars will go back to the lineup they had toward the end of the 10-0-1 streak, like so, if both are indeed able to rejoin:
The Phoenix Coyotes are 27-4-5 when they score first. They're 19-2-2 when leading after the first period. The Stars, on the other hand, have gone scoreless in nine of their last ten first periods. The priority, and the more probable path to victory, would seem to be scoring early in this one.
Dallas has not earned a power play in over two full games of clock now. The Coyotes, over their last eight games, have surrendered a very disciplined 2.25 chances per, so it could be another light night on the job.
From Stars PR: "Statistically, the Stars and Coyotes are very evenly matched. Both have 83 points in the standings, both rank in the top-10 on the penalty kill and bottom-10 on the power play. They have scored an even 2.5 goals per game and have a nearly even goals allowed ratio (DAL: 2.6, PHX: 2.5).
Dallas has allowed just one power play goal over their last 10 games. In total, they have killed off 30 of the last 31 opposition power plays (96.8%). The Stars are currently ranked 10th in the NHL on the penalty kill, up from 18th at the All-Star Break."
Phoenix comes into this one riding a big come from behind win on Sunday night in Edmonton. They trailed 2-0 heading into the third period and found a way to pull the full two points out of it to pull even with the Stars at 83 points.
"We fumbled it around a bit in the first period," said Keith Yandle after the win, "but I think we played our game more as the game wore on. We were able to work them down low and find a way to win."
The Coyotes are 3-1-1 in their last five games and have earned tough points against the same opponents the Stars face down the stretch: Vancouver, Nashville, Edmonton and San Jose. If Phoenix can do it, then the Stars must also find a way with their tough remaining schedule of those same foes.
Phoenix has earned those points in a wide variety of ways. They had two shootouts (4-5, 5-4) against the Predators and Canucks. They had to come from behind on the Oilers. They shutout the Sharks 3-0. They're proving they can win in any kind of game and get clutch goal scoring when they need it. The trick tonight is to grab the lead and make them prove they can come back again.
Radim Vrbata left Sunday's game with an illness, but there's little chance he misses a big game like this.
Keep an eye on Raffi Torres. According to Arizona Sports the forward has scored four goals in the last seven games, and they've all been clutch, coming in the third period. He's scored some big goals against the Stars in the past and could be a source of pain tonight, along with the usual suspects Doan and Vrbata.
Mike Smith, of course, will be in goal.