The end is nigh for the Dallas Stars.
One way or the other.
The preferred way will take near-perfection (probably perfection itself) moving forward as the Stars face the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center, the Sharks at the tank, and the Blue Jackets and Red Wings at home to close things out.
The desperation required (most recently) stems from a regulation loss to the Blues Friday night and a point earned by the Red Wings at Vancouver Saturday.
"I thought we played real hard, especially in the third, made a good push to get some offense on a really stingy team," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said after the defeat in St. Louis. "We came up short at the end, but the guys worked. Our guys worked."
The Stars are proud of their efforts. Proud of their resolve. After trading Michael Ryder, Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy, Tomas Vincour and Jaromir Jagr, how could any observer of this team not be?
Yet the specter of something more remains, even if its probability hits new lows the night after the Red Wings put them back into 10th place with an enormous point earned in Vancouver last night.
The Stars still largely control their own destiny, but must be near-perfect to secure the one they'd prefer.
Going back to 1967, the Stars have only won three times against the Kings on the road four times. Four times. The last coming in 2006-2007 against a Los Angeles team that finished 14th in the conference. Yet it's that third win against (the Stanley Cup Champions) on the road that they just simply need tonight.
Anything less will not do.
The game can be seen nationally on NHL Network in the U.S. and on Fox Sports Southwest locally at 9:00pm. Attach whatever kind of hyperbolic labels to this one you like - Such descriptions will not be enough. They come now to the brink once again.
The Dallas lineup could see a shakeup tonight, though most likely later in the week as new-comer Lane MacDermid nears readiness.
"He's close," Gulutzan told media Saturday. "I think he's been cleared to play here, so we'll make a decision with him tomorrow. We'll definitely see him either tomorrow or the San Jose game... most likely in San Jose on Tuesday."
As such the Stars' line combinations will likely remain what they've been for the last several days...
Trevor Daley's status is still up in the air, according to those with the team. They'll see how he feels Sunday morning before making a determination but it sounds as though Jordie Benn will have to fill his shoes, attempting to check a lethal lineup in Los Angeles.
Kari Lehtonen should be good to goal in goal, representing the Stars' best hope to survive tough road periods and wait for their opportunities down what they'd like to be a close stretch.
The Kings clinched a playoff spot with the results of Saturday's action, though they took no part in them. They now must consider their place in an evolving Western Conference scene...
The Kings, who face the Dallas Stars on Sunday at 6 p.m. at Staples Center, are fourth in the West at the moment. If they stay in the top four they'll have home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1992. They've opened their last 15 consecutive playoff series on the road - including all four last season, when they won the Cup as the No. 8-seeded team.
If they earn one point on Sunday, the Kings will be assured of at least the No. 7 seed. If they win in regulation and Minnesota loses in regulation to Calgary on Sunday, the Kings will clinch at least the No. 6 seed.
After they face Dallas on Sunday the Kings will have three games left. They'll be at Minnesota on Tuesday and at Detroit on Wednesday before wrapping up the lockout-shortened, 48-game schedule at home next Saturday against San Jose. [LA Times]
Since getting punched in the mouth by Dallas a couple of weeks ago the Kings have relapsed into old habits - Which is to say being extraordinarily stingy. They've allowed just 6 goals in their last 12 periods of hockey and will look to do what the Blues did (and laid out a beautiful blueprint for...) to the Stars Friday night.