Gameday Preview: Dallas Stars Host Phoenix Coyotes (7:00pm CST)

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

A share of eighth place is up for grabs, possibly, as Dallas looks to continue their momentum into the Olympic break.

Well, the Dallas Stars could have gone into the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics with eighth place in the NHL's Western Conference secured- But they didn't get the help they needed from the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night.

The Hawks could not solve Phoenix's defensive posture, assuring that even a win tonight and a Vancouver loss would see the Stars lose a tie-breaker based on fewer number of games played, though the two would be tied at 64 points.

Tippett's bunch has earned that distinction thanks to a run of impressive defensive play as of late.

The Phoenix Coyotes have allowed four even strength goals in their last five games.

Total.

Four.

They are on an absolute mission right now, the evidence of which they carry with them into tonight's game as a proud badge of honor having shutout the world champion Chicago Blackhawks last night at Jobing.com Arena before hopping a plane to Dallas.

Dallas' three Olympians, ahead of only Nashville, Phoenix and Ottawa with two each, is less than Phoenix's five- But it was Chicago's ten that were perhaps distracted last night in their final pre-break action before disseminating abroad.

That focus is key tonight. The Stars have been off for two days. Jamie Benn has been giving interviews in his team Canada garb- But the Coyotes have been together, fighting, winning, traveling. Rest is a fine thing, but might that more standard rhythm the schedule maker blessed upon the Coyotes be the difference?

Forget not that Lindy Ruff himself travels to Sochi as an Olympian of sorts after this one. If he's the coach Tom Gaglardi and Jim Nill hope he is he'll have this group's attention where it needs to be.

"We're playing a team we need to beat, and those games are really important," Ruff told the Dallas Morning News Friday. "Somebody says four-point games, and they really are games that can make the difference. By the end of the year you're going to look back on certain games, and this one will probably be one of them."

If you're looking back at a February game at the end of the year it probably means... Ah, let's push forward.

Chicago committed the cardinal sin against the Coyotes last night: Coming out flat. They registered a single shot on goal midway through the first period and fell behind 1-0 almost immediately against a coach and a strategy to which you simply cannot hand a lead.

Phoenix scored eight seconds into a power play awarded just 61 seconds into the game, and then again on a 5-on-3 in the second period. There's a lesson in there somewhere, but Dallas is prepared to fight it if recent trends continue. Ruff's bunch last surrendered more than four power play opportunities at home on December 17th, and in the 14 home games since average giving up just three per game.

On the other hand, poor penalty killing was their undoing in their most recent home losses- A 3-2 disappointment to New Jersey in which they allowed the Devils to score on two of three man-advantages, and a 4-3 loss to Colorado where a power play goal was the difference in the game.

Dallas was patient in their victory over Phoenix Tuesday night, not chasing when they got down, but sticking to the game plan. Jonathan Toews' cross-check with six seconds to go last night is evidence enough that this Phoenix team will frustrate with the best of them when they're rolling. Ryan Garbutt, Antoine Roussel and company's ability to stay the course throughout will speak volumes to the game's outcome as the festivities unfold.

As Chicago hadn't been shutout since February of 2012 (really?) the question for this one seems to be a simple one: Will Mike Smith play back-to-back before travel back-to-backs him in Sochi? Dave Tippett has one horse in that race, so the guess is yes. He's 1-2 on the second night of a set this season, which tells us that they are willing to roll him out there on consecutive nights.

Dallas will roll with much of the same...

The good news, if you like moral victories, is that Stephane Robidas was once again practicing in the red jersey. He is still targeting mid-March for a very hopeful return.

Key to the game? Maybe? The Coyotes are now 9-0-2 this season (79-17-11 overall according to ESPN) when Radim Vrbata scores a goal. And he LOVES to score against Dallas- More than any other team he's ever faced. Keep him off the board.

The puck drops on this one, the final one for quite a while, at 7:00pm CST. It doesn't matter what channel it's on. Get down to the arena.

Weird note from last night...

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