All I can say is "Wow..... What an amazing 2 weeks it has been." The Stars have suddenly found their stride, and are managing to find ways to wins in improbable fashion. We've watched the Stars climb their way up the standings, going from 10th or 11th, all the way up to 7th. I never imagined they would have done this well.
What's been most encouraging to see is that, lately, they've been finding different ways to win. They bored us to death against Edmonton, they had one of the most exciting games imaginable against the Pens, and now they went though their entire supply of sticks (somewhat literally for Robi) with over 40 shots on goal against the Flames. Sometimes they come out on fire, and other times they rely on Kari to bail them out. Yet they still find ways to win. It really does seem like they are playing for each other right now, doesn't it?
Perhaps the best news of all is that the Stars could potentially, even if for just a night, be leading the division should the Coyotes lose to the Pens on Monday night. Perhaps a deserving reward after getting 13 of a possible 14 points. They've certainly picked a great time to go on a roll. With 5 weeks left in the regular season, it's turning into an all out sprint to the finish. Every night is an absolute battle, ones that we can't really afford to lose. And up to this point, they've been cashing in on these opportunities.
So what does a potential division lead mean for the Stars' playoff hopes? Can they really fall out of the playoff race now, after doing so well in the last 7 games? The answer, unfortunately, is yes. And it can happen lightning quick too.
Take a look after the jump to see what I mean.
As always, if you aren't sure what the magic number is, you can read about it here. It's a long post, but it should make things clearer for you. But if you don't want to read it, here's a quick summary: It's the combined points needed to be won by the Stars or missed by other teams pushing for the last playoff spot.
The race is still extremely close. There's only one point of cushion between us and the 9th place Kings right now. But we'll get to that in a minute. First, I want to be able to appreciate just how far we've come over the last 7 games. The following is how the standings looked after that heartbreaking loss to the Predators:
With the Stars sitting in 10th place at this point in time the magic number comes from this: Theoretically, the 8th place team, Calgary, can only score a maximum total of 111 points. So, in order to guarantee beating them, the Stars need to get to 112 points. Since the Stars already had 62 points in the bank, that makes their magic number 50. Something that they can't accomplish on their own, since winning every remaining game would only net them an additional 46 points.
The projected points doesn't look good for the Stars at this point either. 86 measly points. That's 11 less than what it would have took to make the playoffs last season as the 8th seed. Things were definitely looking grim for us.
Six wins and an overtime loss later, though, and things are on the up and up. Here's the standings after all of Sunday night's games:
The number in parentheses is the teams ranking prior to the 7 game stretch.
Here's the magic number:
Now, before I get into the Stars, I want to take a look at some of the other teams first, namely our competition. The Ducks and Wild have the same points total and projected points. With 16 games remaining, their magic number is 42. They can only earn 32 points on their own. That means that whatever record they have to end the season, we would have to lose a full 5 games MORE than them. And with our projected points being at 93, they would have to get to 94 to realistically beat us. That means 14-2 record for them.
I think it's safe to say that the Ducks and the WIld are out of the race.
Just for fun, take a look at Columbus. Even if they win every game through the rest of the season, they would finish with 81 total points. Since we already have 75 earned, that means the Jackets are only 3 losses or 3 Stars' wins away from officially being eliminated for the year. That will probably be done by the end of the week. Colorado and Calgary, on the other hand, are a little bit closer. In order to have a shot at the playoffs, they need to finish at least 11-4 and 12-5 respectively. Those are some pretty hefty records, given how those two teams have been playing lately.
No, our real competition is the Kings, who stand only 1 point back from us. (Magic Numbers negate games in hand, they essentially assume that all teams will win their games in hand, which is why they are 1 point back here, not 3.) In order for the Kings to have a shot at beating us into the playoffs, they only need to go 11-7. Given their talent, and recent history of surging as the playoffs near, this is more than possible. They still have a tough schedule ahead, but it isn't as difficult as ours.
So let's assume the Kings go 11-7. That would put them at 94 points for the season. Given that our ROW is so much higher than all the other teams (we hate winning in the shootout, apparently), we'd only need to tie them in points. That means we need to go 9-6-1 from here on out. If we don't accomplish at least that, then I wouldn't count us in the playoffs at this point.
On the other, more positive side of the coin, the 3 teams in front of us are all only up by 2 points. Given our ROW, if any of them lose in regulation, we will pass them in the Standings. We're very close to moving up in the rankings.
Our magic number is 31, and we have 32 possible points left to obtain. That's not a lot of room for error. Cheer hard for any team that faces the Kings for the rest of the season. The Preds face them next on Tuesday night.
"But wait," you ask, "What about the Division? Making the playoffs for the first time in 4 years isn't enough for ME!"
Fine. Here's those numbers, if they make you happy.
[UPDATE: I forgot to count head to head matchups when thinking about the Stars controlling their own destiny. With 1 game remaining against Phoenix, and 3 against San Jose, the Stars have full control right now, though none of the numbers actually change. /update] As you can see (and could probably guess, since the Yotes and Sharks both have games in hand at this point), they are still in front of us. Even if the Yotes lose in regulation on Monday night, the Sharks will still hold the division lead. Games in hand are absolute gold right now, as long as you cash in on them. In the mean time, it's a 4 team race for the division title. The Yotes are the Yotes, and always find a way to make the playoffs. The Kings have incredible talent, and their record does not appropriately reflect that. It's possible that they might just click, and go on a tear to finish the season. As for the Sharks? Well, who knows what the heck is going on with them. Personally, I think they've stagnated. They could make the playoffs without working too hard, but.... if I had to pick one team to miss the playoffs this year, I'd be inclined to choose them. Either them or us, I think. And I'd much rather see them miss the dance.
There's 16 games to go, and we're both 2 points away from the Division lead, and 2 points away from sitting in 9th. This race may wind up being even closer than last year, as hard as it is to believe. Every game is absolutely vital to our playoff hopes -- Not just our games, but every game the Sharks, Yotes, Hawks, and Kings play as well. It's times like this that I'm glad I shelled out the money for Center Ice.
5 weeks remain in the season. It's going to be stressful, and it's going to be a roller coaster ride, but, dag nab it, ain't it fun?!