Saturday, March 31st, 2012, 9:30 PM CST
Opponent Blog: Fear The Fin
The Dallas Stars let their season slide to the brink of elimination Friday night to the tune of an authoritative Vancouver Canucks victory at Rogers Arena. The Stars trailed early and never gained any traction against the Conference's 2nd place team, losing their fifth in their last eight tries as their trend continues in a decisively downward direction to end the season.
Canuck fourth-liner Maxim Laiperre of all people collected a one goal, two assist night en route to a game high +3 rating and Henrik Sedin poured in three assists as Vancouver dismantled the Stars by a score of 5-2.
It was a night of frustration for Dallas, who's defensive miscues allowed various Canucks to score just their 7th, 2nd, and 9th goals of the season.
"I thought we played well. We had chances," said Glen Gulutzan, trying to remain positive. "Five-on-five I thought we were going real good, but once again Schneider was real good and made good saves on us. In the second the save on Loui Eriksson could have made it 2-1. You run it into that every now and then."
Meanwhile the San Jose Sharks enter this one with an extra day of rest having lost two straight and feeling the pressure to collect points in a big way, though they sit just a single point behind Dallas.
"If you've got 14 or 15 guys going this time of year, you're not going to win, especially against Dallas and L.A," said Ryan Clowe after their loss in Phoenix. "You need everyone. We have to have all four lines rolling, and we need the tenacity. We can get the grit up a bit."
San Jose has been out-scored 5-1 in their last six periods of hockey despite sustained pressure and quality looks throughout. They'll come out plenty motivated and the Stars must have a short memory and an organized, detail oriented start to this one to weather the storm.
They don't come any bigger than this one, we'll say yet again.
Much more on each team after the jump...
With San Jose facing the Stars, Phoenix facing Anaheim and Los Angeles facing Minnesota, there's a very good chance the Stars could finish the night in 9th. Not 10th, because the Avalanche do not play Saturday.
The Sharks hold a 3-1 series edge this year having out-scored the Stars authoritatively 17-8, including 9-3 on the second night of back to backs, such as the Stars face tonight with their 1-10-2 record in those situations overall.
Dallas' lineup against Vancouver looked like this:
Reilly Smith moved up to play with Benn for a good portion of the game but the two were unable to generate anything helpful down the stretch. We'd expect lines to return to the above to start the game. There's also the possibility that Tom Wandell (illness) could re-enter the lineup tonight.
Kari Lehtonen's night ended a little early last night, presumably to rest up for this one so we'd expect to see him in net, ready to bounce back against the onslaught that will certainly come early on.
According to Stars PR: "Saturday's game against the San Jose Sharks is the first of a critical home-and-home series against them. If the Dallas Stars win BOTH games against the Sharks in regulation, the Stars will clinch a playoff spot. This is possible because the max number of points that the Sharks can earn after the two losses is 92 points."
The key for the Stars tonight will be to somehow keep San Jose quiet in the first period. In each of their last two games the Sharks have had ample scoring opportunities early and failed to cash in on them.
"It's frustrating," coach Todd McLellan said. "We had a ton of opportunities. ... You need to score goals to win. We're playing good defensively. I thought Nemo was sharp. You can't blame him tonight. But we have to find someone who gets hot with the scoring touch to produce goals."
If teams are out-chancing their opposition they're eventually going to find a way to turn the faucet back on, and the Stars hope tonight isn't the night. 4-1 and 5-2 defeats at the hands of these Sharks on second night of back-to-backs already don't bode well here if the name of the game is to keep the score low.
The comforting confines of The Shark Tank saw them score 10 goals on a recent three-game homestand - All wins. San Jose has won five of their last six home games, and the Stars have dropped both decisions here this season by identical 5-2 scores.
"We've got to win every game," Joe Thornton said Thursday. "That's how it is now. There's four games left and we've got to go 4-0."
I think 3-1 would do just fine for them. What they likely cannot afford to do is go 2-2-0. 92 points probably wouldn't cut it, barring an unforeseen collapse by Dallas or Phoenix. 2-1-1 would get them 93 points and into the discussion for sure.
The Sharks were without Douglas Murray against Phoenix but he could be back tonight. Otherwise they appear to be very healthy at a time of year when it's critical, unlike Dallas.
The Coyotes were rested and the Sharks were on the second night of a back-to-back - Advantage Phoenix. Tonight the Stars face the same against a desperate, desperate Sharks team that should come out with their hair on fire. Tough spot for Dallas.