Last season the Dallas Stars were eliminated in their second-to-last game, at home, by the... Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets scored 19 seconds in to the first period to take a 1-0 lead. Tonight, we know already, isn't far off.
Tonight Columbus will start with the 1-0 lead they earned in the opening minutes of the March 10th contest here at American Airlines Center shortly before Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench, the game postponed. Tonight's contest will be 60 minutes long.
Whatever happens tonight, the Stars will still be in play when the puck drops in Glendale Sunday night. They've earned that much.
The chasing Coyotes are trying to back their way into the playoffs, and you can't say it's not at least partially effective. They've lost five games in a row now, which should spell death for them, but three of them they lost after 60 minutes, of course, and because of it they stay very much in the hunt.
Most importantly they get the Stars on the final day of the season in their (no-doubt) sold out barn. That last change and the right to match-up a powerful card to hold against a Stars team that is obviously tired. Lindy Ruff certainly thinks so.
"I'm a little concerned that our energy was good early [last night] and the energy began just slipping away," Ruff told media Tuesday night. "Shifts were getting really short. These guys are giving it everything they've got, that's the impressive part."
Guaranteed that Sunday will mean something, their best bet is to make sure it doesn't when it arrives. That includes a wide range of scenarios- How about two OTL's to Columbus and St. Louis combined with a Phoenix regulation loss?
Not glamorous, but it would do the job.
Beyond that they can give themselves other kinds of outs with another point earned. Even one more prior to Sunday opens the possibility of an overtime or shootout win still getting the job done in Glendale, and with the Coyotes, the odds are pretty good it's going to need more than 60 minutes.
24 Coyotes games have gone to overtime this season- Over 30% of their games played.
Or imagine leading them by a single point heading into Sunday's game. Imagine just getting to overtime and a loser point keeping them home for the playoffs.
The irony would not be lost on this crowd, that's for sure.
It's all up to the Dallas Stars. It's all in their control. First they have to solve the Blue Jackets.
Columbus basically punched their ticket to the dance last night, but not officially. One more point eliminates New Jersey. Two more points with a win tonight clinches it and eliminates Washington as well. So they have work to finish, and a 1-0 lead to protect right out of the game.
The message from the coaching staff will be to ignore the fact that they're already up in the game. The message will be, aided by Ruff's comments and the video to back it up, that the Stars are tired. The message will be to go out and take their playoff spot tonight. Here in Dallas.
So they'll come out with their hair on fire. The Stars' ability to weather that storm in the wake of an emotional victory last night will likely be tested. They need only look at the video of their six minutes of the Peverley game to know what Columbus can do, because they were running them right out of the rink that night.
Nathan Horton scored the goal that night, and it will be credited to him at 00:00 of the first period tonight. He won't score any more, however, as he'll miss the game due to injury and make NHL history, scoring a goal in a game in which he does not officially participate.
Columbus has been excellent on the second night of back-to-backs this season winning 9 of 15, including one against the Dallas Stars on March 4th.
Tim Thomas is skating this morning. Were this November we'd say that's a sign that Kari Lehtonen will start again tonight. In this time of hockey-war, however, nothing is certain. Except that Rome and Connauton are likely out.
Stars with very optional practice. Tim Thomas out there, fourth line of Cole-Jeffrey-Chiasson. D-pair Rome-Connauton. Meeting at 11:15 a.m.— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) April 9, 2014
So strap in again tonight, and know those guys down there are feeling it every bit as much (and so much more) than we are.
"We know where we're at," Ruff said last night. "Believe me, we know. We've worked hard for this. We've got to close the deal."