The Dallas Stars are not yet mathematically eliminated from the 2013 NHL playoff race.
They have a reason to go on, and go on they must tonight in the face of overwhelming odds. Detroit beat the Los Angeles Kings, ironically without Dustin Brown after a suspension, and now Dallas needs two losses by Detroit and Columbus both in the schedule's final two games.
Dallas can deliver one each to those clubs as they close out their home schedule against the Blue Jackets tonight and the Red Wings on Saturday, but must rely on the kindness of strangers for the other losses - Mainly (entirely) the Nashville Predators who play the Red Wings Thursday and the Blue Jackets Saturday.
The math puts the Red Wings, after a 3-1 win last night, at over 75% to qualify and extend their league-leading playoff streak, while Columbus holds onto a 12% chance at a date with Chicago. The Stars chances sit nearly zero, but not quite.
It's hard to get mathematically eliminated, though the Stars have out-lasted Edmonton, Colorado, Calgary, Phoenix and Nashville in that regard.
From Stars PR, Dallas can basically ruin Columbus' run tonight: "The Stars come into Thursday's matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets boasting an overall record of 31-10-5 over the Jackets, and are 15-5-2 against Columbus at home. Dallas' .728 points percentage against the Blue Jackets is the best mark against any single NHL team (minimum 15 games played)."
Puck drop is at 7:30~ on FSSW+ tonight, because the Texas Rangers have a Thursday date with the Minnesota Twins in April.
The only meaningful change that might come about for the Stars is Alex Chiasson's status. Chiasson did skate Tuesday and shoot some pucks - His status could be changed to favorable pending the morning skate at the AAC on Thursday, but the potential reward will have to be weighed against the risk.
Lines have been as such:
If Chiasson were to come back in he could be considered in any number of places. He worked his short-lived magic with Whitney and Benn, so that would be where it would be most likely to continue - with Ray Whitney feeding him pucks.
That would mean that Loui Eriksson could be a candidate to try things out again with Eakin and Smith, or if you really want to get crazy, with Fiddler and Nystrom while Cole might drift over with Eakin. In a situation such as this you really can't rule anything out, though the guess here is that Chiasson misses another.
The defense should pair up the same, and Kari Lehtonen should be in goal to make the most of things while hope remains.
The Blue Jackets:
Columbus sits in much the same position as Dallas - Needing help where the Red Wings are concerned. The Blue Jackets must take this one tonight and hope that Dallas beats the Red Wings Saturday or that somehow, improbably and perhaps impossibly, that Detroit loses to Nashville while this one's going on .
They're trying to make the same sort of Cinderella run Dallas is, but Detroit sits squarely in the drivers seat at the moment.
Ahead of the loss in San Jose Tuesday night, the Blue Jackets were candid about their attention to it on television...
Preparations will continue in front of the tube tonight. The Stars, three points back of the eighth-place Jackets with a game in hand, will play at San Jose tonight. NBC Sports Network has the broadcast beginning at 10 p.m.
"I'm sure I'll be up late watching the game with great interest," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "And then tomorrow we'll come in with a focus, have a good practice and get on a plane and head to Dallas."
Two regulation wins for the Jackets coupled with a regulation loss by Detroit in any of the Red Wings' three remaining games would secure a playoff berth for Columbus. But two wins starts with one, Richards said. Yes, he'll watch the Stars tonight (and probably keep an eye on the goings on in Minnesota, where the seventh-place Wild plays host to the Kings). But it's two points, not four, that are of current import.
"You've just got to win on Thursday," Richards said. "That's the first step. We can't get ahead of ourselves. We can't start thinking about four points. It's gotta be two points first."
Despite all that's happened, they should face a Dallas club, at least in the early going, that knows it still has something to play for. Out of town scores could come in from Detroit to change that. Only time will tell.
It is scheduled to be the last time these teams face each other both as Western Conference foes.
Potential line combinations:
They've added a huge punch in Gaborik on that top line, but their strength remains, as it was when they beat Dallas earlier in the year, playing Dave Tippett hockey. Chances will be few and far between and the icings will continue as the game is slowed down and frustrations mount. It could be a war of attrition if Dallas can match their defensive posture. An overtime or shootout victory does not necessarily eliminate the Stars.