One point. One game in hand. One head-to-head remaining. And eight games left to see how it all shakes out.
With a shot at the first playoff berth in six seasons in their grasp, the Dallas Stars will kick off their final, frantic stretch of the regular season today with, gulp, an east coast road swing that begins in Washington D.C. tonight at 6 p.m. Central time.
It's the first of eight games in 13 days for the Stars, including four games in five days that starts this Saturday. There won't me much rest of weary and sore bodies right when the Stars need points the most.
They will get one new reinforcement tonight as young defenseman Patrik Nemeth joins the team and is scheduled to be in the lineup. It will be the first NHL game for the 6-foot-3, 235 pound Swede who has spent the past two seasons with the Texas Stars.
There's no word on his potential defensive partner yet, though he is replacing an injured Aaron Rome in the lineup which means the hole right now is next to Sergei Gonchar. We'll see how things shake out at morning skate. The forwards should be unchanged from last game, though reinforcements in the form of Erik Cole could be arriving near the end of this four-game road trip through the old Southeast Division.
The playoff position is precarious still, even though the Stars control their own fate. They are one point back of the eighth place Phoenix Coyotes with a game in hand and a game against them remaining. The Minnesota Wild, who were within shouting distance after a bit of a losing skid, put a little distance between themselves and the dogfight for eighth with their win in Los Angeles on Monday.
The Capitals, a mystery wrapped in an enigma of a special-teams dominated team, are also just outside the playoff race and looking in. There are a quartet of teams vying for the final two playoff spots in the East, and the Caps are a point out at the moment. Things haven't been going well there recently - they've dropped three in a row and four out of five - and it's clearly desperation time now.
If there's something to watch out for specifically, it's the power play. The Capitals power play steams along at a league-leading 24.2 percent with 65 goals to show for it. A little more than 30 percent of their offense comes on the power play, much of it off that bazooka of a shot from Alex Ovechkin, so it might be a good night for players like Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel to be on their best behavior.
For comparison, the Stars score about 20 percent of their goals on the power play with a 16.2 conversion rate.
The Caps are a bit banged up as well, with defensman Jack Hillen questionable and Aaron Volpatti, John Erskine and Brooks Laich all out. Mikhail Grabovski returned to the lineup last weekend after a lingering ankle injury and is still being eased into the lineup.
Here's what the lineup looked like for their recent game against the Nashville Predators:
Ovechkin, for all his firepower, has gone a month without an even-strength point. You'd think the law of averages will catch up to that number sometime soon.
It should be a game of two desperate teams trying not to let the season slip away. The Stars are trying to ride a little bit of momentum while the Caps are trying to turn it around. One team will feel like it's situation is that much bleaker by the end of the night.