NHL Playoff Race: Observations as Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes Duke it Out

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Is it going to be different this time? IS IT?

Hello, friends. I've been absent these days off on business travel, and then in pleasure, witnessing the marriage of my little sister in St. Thomas, where I write to you Saturday evening in the ocean air.

I witnessed the Dallas Stars 5-2 win over Tampa Bay thanks to the miracle of my father's slingbox and the patience of my wife, and can't help but desire to opine, though I am on "vacation..."

As our plane traveled from the gate to the runway I streamed the Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes on my cell phone telephone Thursday evening and found their early exploits in the first period to be most satisfactory.

Upon disembarking I saw the score. And the penalties. And the names of the officials. And the manner in which a puck went straight up in the air, only to find Kari's back, then the goal's.

And that was certainly alarming. Two points they needed against a lesser foe- A dog, even, and they screwed the pooch. Son of a _itch. (Is that enough dog humor?). With the Phoenix Coyotes (desert dogs, OK I'll stop) headed for a date with the perpetually wayward Edmonton Oilers, the combination certainly felt deadly to any playoff hopes I had harbored.

A Coyote shootout loss (Oh, Tipp...) later and the door re-opened a bit. A 3-0 lead in the first period against Stamkos' line and the other one they let out there every now and then when Stamkos didn't want to be out (rarely) seemed to signal the kind of response we usually dream about.

The second period was about as bad as it could get, and the response in the third was therefore shocking to anyone who values logic and traditional analysis.

And so we find ourselves again on the way back up after bottoming out emotionally. That roller coaster. That up and down.

A few ponderings...

  • From game to game, from period to period, the team is inconsistent- But in their good periods, are good enough to warrant playoff consideration in an impossible conference. There's something to be said for that. What Lindy Ruff says about those times resembling the second period last night is another matter entirely.
  • Other teams are going to make runs at you. You don't comfortably control 60-minute games against good competition. It's true. The mental miscues and poor passing, entirely self-inflicted, is concerning, however. When the pressure ratchets up they cannot do that. It cannot always take an intermission to snap out of it. They know that.
  • Erik Cole was back and his legs are in good working order. How he handles the back-to-back will be interesting after such a long layoff.
  • Cody Eakin's line took the ice for stretches Saturday night and out came Stamkos and Johnson. That is one of Dallas' problems, and has been. Matching up on the road. Seguin and Benn found a way to shoulder the load tonight- Can they do it in Phoenix on April 13th with Dave Tippett's full attention on them? His strategy will surely be that if someone else beats them, fine, but NOT them.
  • Florida is another dog, so to speak. Kicking it is a whole other thing entirely. The Stars had won 5 of 6 last week- Had claimed a spot. Had the whole world in their hands, and had a fun practice ahead of the Carolina game, goofing off a bit. Then they lay an egg. Do they have trouble handling success? Do they have trouble with "supposed to win" games, preferring to surprise in the others (Kings, Bruins, Ducks, Lightning, etc...)? They SHOULD win Sunday night. How they handle that should tell us about their killer instinct.
  • The Penguins get trounced by the Wild and lose to Phoenix in a week. If those games both go the other way how different is the conversation Sunday morning? Two points closer to Minnesota. Two points further away from Phoenix. Funny how one unfocused bunch from the East capitulating to lesser competition can change so much.
  • lol Maple Leafs.
  • This time of year is interesting. The Coyotes have to play the Blue Jackets and the Sharks. If it's November you expect that set to go a certain way. In April? Not so much. It's Columbus that could give the stiffer test while the Sharks, playing them late enough that it really doesn't matter, might not give that one everything they've got- And suddenly timing and circumstances are affecting things that other's are taking deadly, deadly seriously.
  • That's a lot of worrying about what others are doing- In the end it's Florida. It's Nashville. Columbus. St. Louis. Phoenix. If they keep their eyes on their own paper, that final question may not be a deal breaker.
  • Don't let the power play.... oh, the power play... ruin this whole thing. That was bad Saturday night. They don't have to dwell on it because of the even strength scoring, but they will need their special teams to come through before the end.
  • Hold on. It's going to be a bumpy ride. You know it.
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