Mar 13, 2012; St. Paul, MN, USA; Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) is congratulated by forward Jamie Benn (14) following the victory against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center. The Stars defeated the Wild 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
Six games left to play and the Dallas face a very, very tough week ahead that will have a significant impact on the outcome of this season. The Stars vaulted themselves into this race with an incredible 10-0-1 run that effectively saved the season in less than a month. Now the Stars are in a brutal fight in order to keep their heads above water and with four losses in the past six games the Stars are looking to reverse that record if they have any hope of making the playoffs.
Let's just forget about the division for right now.
It's been a frustrating week or so for Stars fans and while the 4-1 win on Saturday was satisfying there were signs that all had not been suddenly corrected. The fire that the Stars played with at home against the Flames finally burned them when discipline and turnovers once again doomed them.
The same issues that have plagued the Stars in the past three games were their undoing during the inconsistency of December and January. During that stretch of games the Stars struggled to pool two or three wins together and therefore struggled to gain ground in the conference. With just six games left the Stars will have to instantly pull themselves out of this tailspin if they have any hope of avoiding greens fees in mid-April.
While it's a frustrating and somewhat depressing day after last night's loss, I can't help but keep a firm grasp of the optimism that driven for the past two months. Let's take a closer look at my inner thoughts after the jump.
** For me, this season has been all about expectations and those same expectations I had at the beginning of the year is what keeps me from truly falling apart with despair after each of these latest losses. At the beginning of the season I was one of the few that predicted Dallas to make the playoffs, although I thought they would be fighting desperately just to get there. Five months later and here we are, with the season playing out almost exactly as I had predicted. Almost.
For many fans, in October you would have been incredibly grateful if you had been told the Stars would fight for 8th in the conference and somehow make the playoffs. What happened during the season, however, is that expectations drastically changed as the season progressed. When the Stars rebounded with a 10-0-1 run suddenly it wasn't just about the playoffs -- the division title is up for grabs! The Stars have had some issues, however, and find themselves on the brink of once again no longer controlling their own destiny.
It seems that for some this would be seen as an epic collapse. Indeed, many felt that after the trade deadline passed with no big moves that anything short of making the postseason would be seen as incredible failure. It's amazing how expectations change so much during the course of the season and while it's fair to ride the ups and downs with the team, sometimes we have to look back at what we entered this season expecting.
Of course, not making the playoffs will be incredibly disappointing and personally I fear what it would do the fanbase overall. Yet I won't see it as an epic failure or collapse...at least not yet. Ask me in two weeks.
** Perhaps what has been most frustrating about the past few weeks is that the Stars have essentially beaten themselves in most of these games. Last night against Calgary I was feeling insanely good about the Stars and how they were playing as it felt as if they were firmly dominating the game. Instantly, however, the tone of the game completely changed and endless turnovers and penalties absolutely doomed them.
The officiating itself was atrocious but a lot of the blame lays on the Dallas Stars. A game after talking about maintaining discipline was heard from everyone on the team, the Stars give an extremely desperate team six power plays in one period. Outside of that stretch of insanity the Stars outplayed the Flames by a wide margin and showed extreme effort and perseverance in their attempt at a third-period comeback.
This is what gives me hope that the Stars can still turn this around, despite the upcoming schedule. The turnovers were corrected for 11 games and one reason the Stars were able to go on that run was they just weren't in the penalty box that often. The Stars have shown that both of these issues can be corrected and aside for a 15-minute stretch in the middle of the game the Stars executed extremely well. Too bad the game is 60 minutes long.
** If nothing else, we won't be able to say this team didn't try hard or give it everything they had. In the middle of such a heinous game the Stars were making incredible sacrifices up and down the ice. Players like Adam Burish, Vernon Fiddler, Tomas Vincour and Eric Nystrom may not be the most talented but they form a core of players that want nothing more than to make the postseason and will do anything possible in order to get there.
This is why this season is so much different that last's despite the end of the season almost going the exact same at the end. Fans can connect with these players and this team and while there are frustrations on too many nights in the end we care for these players and this team like we haven't for the Stars in a very long time. It's energy and sacrifice that will help save this season and the Stars need to show that level of play in all six remaining games. Not just these guys; the entire team.
** It's a shame the game ended as it did because Jamie Benn was enjoying perhaps his finest game of the season. He finished with just two goals but it felt as if it could have been so much more. The hard skating and hard checking forward was back and it's no surprise that Benn's offense looked much more potent as well.
** I thought that Adam Pardy has played well overall the past few games and it's something that should be noted. He's looking more confident each and with Fistric out is one of the few defensemen able to play physical in front of the net. Gulutzan is making sure to limit his defensive liability in these games but that's also meant more time on offense, wherein Pardy is looking better and better.
I don't care what the Corsi numbers say or what the Fenwick is, this is something I can just see with my eyes. The Dallas Stars need Mark Fistric in the game. He's a physical presence that brings balance to this offense and it also allows for more balanced pairings on the blue line. Pardy has been okay but Fistric's impact -- especially on the penalty kill -- has been significant ever since Nicklass Grossmann was traded. He's playing smart, physical hockey and has severely limited his mistakes ever since that Nashville game in early February.
** Finally, there is one thing that has become abundantly clear the past six weeks: the Dallas Stars will not make the postseason unless Kari Lehtonen takes them there. This is a Dallas Stars team that can be decent defensively at times but relies extremely heavily on Lehtonen to make them look better than they really are. All playoff teams need great goaltending but for the Stars, their only chance at the postseason is if Lehtonen is the best player he possibly can be.
I'm guessing that Richard Bachman may play against Vancouver, leaving Lehtonen for San Jose the following night. Of course, with the season on the line like it is, don't be surprised if Gulutzan rides Lehtonen for the rest of the season. That's how important he is to this race and to these Dallas Stars. He's playing at an elite level and has been for most of this season; it would be a shame if all of that went to waste without a playoff game being played.