The Dallas Stars, among other teams in the gaggle chasing in the Western Conference, are approaching the "every game is a must win" mentality owing to the mathematics of their situation.
A huge win over the St. Louis Blues in a building where the visitor is seldom victorious catapults them now into this, the quintessential "four-point game" against these San Jose Sharks.
San Jose occupies (upon the writing of this blog) the 8th seed in the West with 66 points and 59 games played. The Stars trail by four points but have two games in hand - a 68-62 deficit with a loss tonight. A threatening inching, if you will, and a 66-64 margin can be had with a win.
Tyler Seguin and Patrick Eaves will continue to be missed, of course, but Lindy Ruff could get one body back in the form of Ales Hemsky, who practiced Wednesday and is a game-time decision.
Travis Moen was placed on injured reserve and the team re-called Brendan Ranford from the Texas Stars, who could possibly get his turn in the NHL if Hemsky cannot go.
It's been said in all his time here - the Stars will go as well as Kari Lehtonen does, and he's now 4-0-0 in his past four starts with a 1.49 GAA and .959 save percentage.
The Stars have dropped five of their last eight in their own building and desperately need to get something going in front of the home crowd if they're to push their way into the top-eight.
The San Jose Sharks feel like they've been possessing the puck and generating enough quality chances lately - see 43 shots on the Nashville Predators Tuesday night - but they've been giving up too much on the other end on what they're considering to be occasional hiccups.
"Just a couple breakdowns, it really is," Joe Pavelsi told media in Nashville. "And right now, when it is breaking down, we haven't recovered or picked that last guy up, or whatever the reason."
Those breakdowns have resulted in San Jose surrendering, in their last six games, 5, 5, 2, 5, 4 and 5 tallies- And a 1-4-1 record as they slip back to the pack a bit.
Tuesday they got Justin Braun back from an 11-game injury and paired him with - oh by the way - former Dallas Star Brenden Dillon, who makes his first return to American Airlines Center tonight in one of the Stars' most notorious enemy's uniform.
Dillon's -15 in his last 26 games with San Jose, and generally plays anywhere between 16 and 20 minutes per game.
Struggle though they have, recently, they've been good on the road, going 6-3-0 since New Years Even including wins in Vancouver, Minnesota, Winnipeg and Anaheim. In their previous visit to Dallas in November they saw Jamie Benn and company put 40 shots on their net to their 29, but took home a 5-3 win.
San Jose has allowed six power play goals against in their last 19 shorthanded situations, giving up nearly one a game for the last two weeks, but they've been disciplined. In their last four games they've been shorthanded twice, once, twice and twice.
Their lineup, or something like it:
Stalock started in Nashville and took the 5-1 loss on the chin. Niemi went on a heck of a 6-0-2 run between January 13th and February 5th but has cooled with the play in front of him and he's 1-3-1 in his last five outings.
San Jose will try to stay focused ahead of their "Stadium Series" outdoor game against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
From Stars PR:
"YOU'RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER BOAT"
The Stars play host to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night in the second of three matchups between the two clubs scheduled for the 2014-15 regular season. Dallas fell to the Sharks in the first contest, 5-3, at American Airlines Center on Nov. 8, as forward Tyler Seguin scored all three of the Stars' goals for his first hat trick of the season. The Stars come into Thursday's contest having won three of its last four games against San Jose at American Airlines Center (3-1-0), and have earned points in six of the last eight meetings overall with them, posting a 4-2-2 record against the Sharks since the start of the 2012-13 season.