Clinging to Hope, Dallas Stars Face Surging Nashville Predators Tuesday Night

Ronald Martinez

An ever decreasing margin for error. An increasingly tough schedule remaining.

Up by two goals at one point, the Dallas Stars suffered a devastating loss. Against the Islanders this year. Against Calgary. Now against the Florida Panthers, who swept the season series and stole a chance to solidify their playoff dreams.

Now the Stars find themselves facing the St. Louis Blues, a surging and scary (as of late) Nashville Predator team, and the Columbus Blue Jackets on the second night of a back-to-back, who, by the way, are already up 1-0 despite 60 minutes to play tomorrow night.

If there were any games odds-makers expected Dallas to win this season, they were at the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers, but not even shootout/overtime loss points were collected, as Phoenix did against Edmonton the other night.

Opportunities spoiled repeatedly. Now their resolve to bounce back, as they've done all season long, is put to the ultimate test as the final week unfolds with four quick games.

And the ailing Mike Smith went through a full practice for the Coyotes Monday morning. Very little is going right for the Dallas Stars, who must make their own luck in the only way they can- Finding a way to collect points.

Winning is kind of optional, if they prefer.

Because of the tie-breaking situation the Stars could conceivably go 0-0-3 in these next three and still be mathematically alive when they travel to Phoenix to end the season, needing a regulation victory (Dave Tippett smiles...) to punch their ticket.

0-4-1 to end last season. 0-5-0 the season before that. They've started their last five with a crippling loss in Florida after a big lead. It's up them to not repeat recent history, but it's not a good start.

Must-win situations moving forward, it's hard to imagine not starting Kari Lehtonen throughout, but we'll see. Four games in five nights is a tall order for a netminder.

When last these teams met Lindy Ruff challenged Shea Weber rather than shy away, matching Seguin and Benn deliberately with the man and his partner Josi- And it worked after some nervous first-period moments. Will that be the game plan again tonight?

The Predators are still alive. Technically. Should the Stars and Coyotes nearly fail to earn any more points Nashville has a decent chance of claiming the final wild card spot in the west, and don't tell them it's not worth fighting for.

They're fresh off a 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks. In San Jose. And they have an extra day of rest than does Dallas. And absolutely nothing to lose.

Oh yeah- They also beat Anaheim on the road. And they're 6-1-1 in their last eight games.

Uh oh.

They've scored 32 goals in that stretch, good for an even FOUR per game. Pekka Rinne is back. They're living large and playing their best hockey of the season right now, looking to spoil Dallas' entire year with what's become regular business for them lately here tonight.

Nashville owns the conference's 7th best road record (don't sneeze, that's impressive) at 18-15-6. They've not relied on their power play at all to get hot on offense, tallying just 2 of the 32 in this stretch on the job.

They don't give up power plays either- Just 31 in their last 14 games for an average of just 2.21 (!!) per contest, including six in that stretch surrendering one or fewer power plays to the opponent. That's discipline.

So all signs point to two teams heading in opposite directions of late, and the pressure is on the home squad like never before this year.

The Preds:

Cullen-Fisher-Hornqvist
Bourque-Jarnkrok-Smith
Spaling-Wilson-Stalberg
Clune-Gaustad-Nystrom

Josi-Weber
Jones-Bartley
Ekholm-Ellis

Rinne

The puck drops at about 7:38pm CST on Fox Sports Southwest proper tonight. See you here for the gameday thread as we chat live- If you don't have tickets.

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