The wiggle room has been eliminated in the NHL's Western Conference playoff race.
The Phoenix Coyotes had the Calgary Flames dead-to-rights in the third period, nursing a lead- The same as the Dallas Stars the night before. Unlike Dallas, however, they were able to convert the full two points.
And so the Stars have been caught from behind at 75 points a piece, and now must battle for their playoff lives against the Winnipeg Jets to steal that second wild-card spot back outright.
Dallas relied on a huge influx of AHL-level talent in Friday night's loss to Calgary in the forms of Travis Morin, Colton Sceviour and Chris Muler. Rich Peverley, Cody Eakin and Shawn Horcoff were those for whom they subbed. Cody Eakin could be the only one back in action today.
"I would anticipate him being ready to play," Ruff told media Saturday. "We got him out there, he felt pretty good, and as a precaution I told him to go off and get an off-ice workout."
Shawn Horcoff suffered an injury in practice last week and will likely remain out, along with goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who is practicing, at least.
"Maybe yesterday, things were a little fast for me," he said Saturday. "I think that is always the case when you're not practicing for a week. It takes a day or two to get back used to it. Today was better and we are moving in the right direction."
He is close. Very close. Close enough to be on the trip, though not likely to suit up in Winnipeg. Either way, the bullet appears to have been dodged after some scary video that accompanied his head's date with the cross-bar. It will not be a season-ending injury or a long-term concern. Playing time for him next week looks likely.
Alex Goligoski was given some extra rest Saturday as a precaution. Rich Peverley will meet with doctors in Cleveland on Monday.
As with Calgary, the Stars face a young team tonight with absolutely nothing to lose, as Winnipeg's fate seems to be all-but-decided in the playoff race. But a single game, as the Stars well know, can really, really bite you. It's another critical one here this late-afternoon, as such.
Since the Olympic break Winnipeg is 2-3-3- Also phrased as having lost six in a row- Also phrased as just one game under .500 in that stretch. Attach your own meaning to their interesting record in that time frame, but know that over their last four games they've averaged 37.5 shots on goal.
They like to run and gun a bit, and they're happy to play the speed game. They'll take as many power play chances as they can, as well, having collected four from the Rangers, four from the Canucks, seven from the Senators and five from the Islanders since the break.
Dallas didn't earn a single power play against Calgary Friday night while watching the Flames convert their only opportunity. The Stars watched backup netminder Joey MacDonald, who had not played since November, steal the show. Tonight they face another backup...
The Winnipeg Jets will be missing both goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and forward Chris Thorburn -- and maybe some others, too -- as they head into a critical pair of games tonight at home against the Dallas Stars and Monday in St. Louis against the Blues.
Pavelec and Thorburn were both injured Friday night at the MTS Centre in a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers -- Thorburn hurt his foot when he was hit by a puck, while Pavelec sustained a lower-body injury during a goalmouth scramble late in the first period. Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Saturday both men are lost for at least the next two games.
With Pavelec out, backup netminder Al Montoya will start the club's next two games. The Jets also announced Saturday they have recalled goaltender Michael Huthcinson from their AHL affiliate in St. John's to back Montoya.
That is a salty forward lineup. On paper they look much deeper there than does Dallas. They take a lot of shots, but they don't score a lot of goals on most nights. Containing them is still no easy task.
Puck drop is at 7:00pm on TXA-21.