The Detroit Red Wings, who the Stars continue chasing, just faced the same "two-step" now confronting Dallas: San Jose at home, then at Chicago. The Red Wings managed two points out of the set. The Stars must do the same, in whatever fashion, if they dare hope to keep pace.
The Stars will try to extend their current streak to five games tonight, something they accomplished in two separate stretches last season, though not qualifying for the playoffs.
"I thought [we] battled hard," Gulutzan said after the Friday win in Nashville. "We didn't get as may pucks to the net as I'd hoped. I thought their penalty kill was good, but we did get some chances in on those ones we capitalized. That was the difference."
Dallas had a bit of "puck luck," scoring four goals on their first 11 shots against Chris Mason as Pekka Rinne looked on from the bench. In the end, though, they don't ask how. Only "how many?". The Stars continue to gain slight, slight ground on the Red Wings, now losers of consecutive games in shootouts.
"We're not getting too far ahead of ourselves," Gulutzan said of the playoff race. "Everyday is a battle, every game day we're focused. We're just trying to claw our way into one of those top eight spots."
Dallas already has more wins and more ROW's than Detroit. A win tonight would tie them in points but give Dallas the 8th seed.
From Stars PR: "Stars forward JAMIE BENN tallied two assists and the game-deciding goal in the shootout at HP Pavilion on April 7, and now leads the team with four points (1G-3A) against the Sharks this season. BENN is currently riding a three-game point streak (1G-4A-5 PTS) against San Jose and has points (3G-5A-8 PTS) in five of his last six against them."
The puck will drop shortly after 7:00pm on The Ocho (FSSW+). I believe Derian Hatcher is next up to be honored for the Stars' 20th anniversary team.
The big question for Dallas, of course, is will Kari Lehtonen be able to play?
He practiced for 40 minutes, reportedly, yesterday and looked good, but knew he was not right. The plan, via Kari, was to hope he feels better Saturday morning and then reassess the situation. Richard Bachman has two straight wins and Cristopher Nilstorp is here backing up. The Stars may have to hope Bachman's good run of fortune continues tonight.
Gulutzan and company were able to feed Larsen and Rome nearly 16 minutes of ice team each Friday, in theory helping the rest of the defense out tonight when things could get significantly more contentious. The spread on the forwards was also a little bit more even than usual, and the third period was largely stress free - which hopefully translated to less arduous minutes all around.
Dallas is 2-3-0 on the second night of back-to-backs this season with both victories coming on the road (LAK, CBJ).
Lines should remain the same for a team on a four-game win streak:
With even the Wandell line getting in on the scoring in Nashville it's the Eakin trio continuing to lag in the production area. The Fiddler and Benn combinations have been fruitful. That may be enough going forward but you know Loui Erikssin would like to get something going, and nearly did last night on a breakaway as his season of "almosts" continues.
The defense will likely remain:
I'm guessing Bachman again, but we'll see.
San Jose, after traveling from Detroit Thursday night, had the luxury of waiting on the Stars and viewing the 5-2 win over Nashville from a downtown Dallas hotel.
Since the Stars ended their seven-game win streak at The Tank last Sunday afternoon the Sharks have embarked on a road swing to the midwest, getting shellacked by the Blue Jackets 4-0 at Nationwide and defeating the Red Wings in a shootout, though if you saw the third period it looked a lot like out-lasting the Red Wings.
As when the Stars play the Kings, a significant and nearly unavoidable disadvantage will once again come from faceoffs. The Sharks enter as one of the league's very top teams on the draw, while the Stars continue to mill about 24th-26th depending on the night. On the second night of a back-to-back that will be a considerable hinderance to Gulutzan's bunch.
Is it fair to say the Sharks are faster after the departure of three veterans in the 10 days leading up to the trade deadline? After all, since the first of the deals that sent Douglas Murray, Michal Handzus and Ryane Clowe elsewhere, San Jose is 8-1-1 and generally has looked rejuvenated.
It's a somewhat delicate topic. After all, McLellan doesn't want to bad mouth, even indirectly, his former players who still have the respect in the San Jose locker room. But after the Sharks captured a 3-2 shootout victory over the Detroit Red Wings, the coach gave it his best shot.
Yes, he said, this probably is a faster team.
"We're playing with a little more speed, a little more tempo. We're getting pucks up the ice a little bit quicker. We're spending less time in our zone and more time in the other team's zone," McLellan said.
With both teams believing the same about themselves it will be interesting to see where the lion's share of the puck possession lies when it's all said and done. San Jose did allow the Stars 34 shots on goal last Sunday - Compare that to just 18 for Dallas last night.
Possible line combinations: