Thursday, April 5th, 2012, 7:00 PM CST
Opponent Blog: On the Forecheck
The Dallas Stars have lost three in a row, four of their last five, and seven of their last ten, yes, but "it ain't over till it's over," as they say. The beat goes and they've still got a chance with just two games remaining.
"We all know the situation," said Glen Gulutzan Wednesday. "We've got to win two games to give ourselves a chance, and we need a little help."
The help they speak of is a two-game losing streak to end the season by any of their three Pacific rivals ahead of them - Phoenix, Los Angeles or San Jose. Phoenix and L.A. would need to lose twice in regulation. The Sharks could collect an OT/SO loss as part of their would-be swoon and the Stars could still tie them, and win the first tie breaker.
Stranger things have happened, you might say.
"If we take care of ourselves here, I think, it is going to come down to the last day and we are going to put somebody in a must-win situation," finished Gulutzan.
For now the Stars are the only team in a must win situation, and even if they do, a Sharks win in overtime or a shootout still eliminates them tonight. If that game ends in regulation, then a win tonight for the Stars preserves some intrigue until the season's final day.
The Stars take the ice 180 minutes before San Jose does, so winning the game is the first and only thing that matters, of course. Dallas has defeated the Nashville Predators two of three times, including a 4-1 win at Bridgestone Arena on January 5th.
Nashville, as you are no doubt aware, has a bit of a different look to them these days, however. Alexandre Radulov, Paul Gaustad and Hal Gill were added to an already successful roster this spring and the Preds fancy themselves to be "all in" for a Stanley Cup run.
Continued after the jump...The Stars:
"Stranger things have happened," said Brenden Morrow. "We're going to need a lot of help, some people doing us some favors, but we're not going to quit around here. We're going to get back to work."
The lineup continues to be a bit of a guessing game tonight. Eric Nystrom returned Tuesday, Tom Wandell continued to sit. Brenden Morrow spent time on the first and fourth lines, as well as the power play. Radek Dvorak did not skate. Tomas Vincour spent time with the Benn line and the Fiddler trio. Gulutzan seemed to switch things up in the second and then go back later in the third.
Dvorak could be a player tonight, so the lines could be something like this:
Given the dire nature of the circumstances and the Stars' need to manufacture offense, anything is possible, including the reuniting of Eriksson and Benn, or perhaps the inclusion of Ryder on Benn's line and Morrow on Ribeiro's left.
It will all be in play tonight as a loss definitely eliminates the Stars. They'll need to at least give the opposition something to think about on where and when to deploy Weber/Suter.
The Stars have lost four of five on the road, allowing 19 total goals in that span and scoring just 11, including getting shutout in their last trip out (@ San Jose).
Dallas has out-chanced the Preds (by our count) 35-28 total, and 26-20 on even strength chances this season.
From Stars PR: "Statistically, Kari Lehtonen is having a career year on the road this season. He is one win shy of tying his career high (15 set in 2010-11) and has his lowest goals against average (2.21) and highest save percentage (.932) in his career. Last season, Lehtonen finished the season with a .912 SV% and a 2.77 GAA on the road."
He will of course be in net, and win or lose, we would expect him to finish the season at home in Dallas on Saturday unless he's been playing with some kind of unknown injury.
These previews are getting a little repetitive at this point, I realize, but we're going to talk about special teams. Again.
Nashville has the league's best power play at 21.9% - Next closest is 20.8, so they're practically running away with it at this point. The Preds have scored 54 power play goals to Dallas' 33 this year. The Preds have scored 224 total goals to Dallas' 202.
The difference between what the Predators have done at even strength (or at least in situations other than the power play) and what the Stars have done in the same is therefore...calculators out... A single goal. Their power play is what has made them a "top 10" offense in this league. The Stars 30th ranked power play has had the expected opposite effect.
Not surprisingly then, the Predators have three power play goals against Dallas this season and the Stars have not scored any against Nashville. Staying out of the box and keeping things 5 on 5 will be key as always.
That being said Nashville hasn't exactly been lighting it up down the stretch, losing six of their last eleven games. They've won six of their last nine at home, but can be blown out from time to time - The three losses were to the Kings (5 GA), Oilers (6 GA) and the Blackhawks (5 GA).
They've scored 30 goals in their last 9 games (3.33 per).
For contrast, here was their lineup the first time these teams met this year in December:
To say they have fortified themselves a bit is an understatement.