The Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild, and San Jose Sharks are in quite a three-way battle for the West's final wild-card playoff spot.
Somewhere below that sit the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche, who have not given up hope, but are now tasked with somehow earning six or seven points more than those competitors over the season's final 21 games to have even a shot at another post-season berth.
Both were in the playoffs last season- Both now are tied for last place in the NHL's Central Division.
The Stars, as you know, have lost five of their last six games. They have been out-scored in those five games, despite a six-goal outburst in their last home game against the Detrot Red Wings, by a margin of 26-13.
In their last three third-periods they have seen Detroit score four times, Minnesota six times, and Winnipeg twice. Lindy Ruff has tried Kari Lehtonen. He has tried Jhonas Enroth. He is without Tyler Seguin, and their puck-possession game has suffered accordingly.
This time, it seems, they could be altering things a bit where the forwards are concerned. These were the lines in practice on Thursday:
Erik Cole-Jason Spezza-Ales Hemsky
Jamie Benn-Cody Eakin-Brett Ritchie
Antoine Roussel-Vernon Fiddler-Ryan Garbutt
Curtis McKenzie-Shawn Horcoff-Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg
Jyrki Jokipakka-Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn-Jason Demers
Jason Spezza and Jamie Benn get split up in favor of trying to create a more balanced attack- And Cody Eakin gets split from Roussel and Garbutt, as that trio has not been effective in the offensive end of late.
You can see the appeal of that makeshift first line, but what of the second? Jamie Benn has been such a bull lately, it seems that scoring chances will be had no matter who skates with him, but what of the dynamic of that line? With Eakin and Ritchie does Benn become the play-maker rather than the shooter? It will be interesting to watch if these lines really do take the ice this evening.
"We have some big games ahead of us and I still believe in this group," Vern Fiddler told the Dallas Morning News Thursday. "We've shown we can do it for periods of time, but we need to put it all together with big saves, big goals and solid team defense. I really do think we can do it."
Kari Lehtonen was said to have a minor "medical issue" earlier in the week, but looks ready to go and the guess out there seems to be that he'll be back in net this evening.
The Avs have been off for two days like Dallas. They saw Nashville put 41 shots on them Tuesday in a 5-2 loss on the road, but felt they had some real signs of life with wins over high-quality teams in the Tampa Bay Lightning (5-4) and Chicago Blackhawks (4-1) just before that.
So they've got some life left in them, even if their math looks as bleak as does Dallas'.
In contrast to Dallas, in fact, they're winners of four of their last six- Including a 4-1 trouncing of the Stars in Denver on Valentine's Day, including a 30-25 shot margin in favor of the home team.
Colorado is a perfect 4-0-0 against Dallas this season. They've killed 14 of their last 15 penalties. They've scored three power plays goals in their last three games. They've lost 20 of their 30 road games this season. They have won just four games on the road in the Western Conference- One of which was in Dallas.
From Stars PR:
POURING LIKE AN AVALANCHE, COMING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN
The Stars return home on Friday to face off against the Colorado Avalanche in the fifth and final contest between the two Central Division rivals scheduled for the 2014-15 regular season. Dallas is still looking for its first win of the season, as the team has posted a 0-3-1 record in the first four matchups against the Avalanche this season. Stars forward Ales Hemsky comes into Friday's tilt with points in each of his last two games against Colorado (1-1=2), and has registered 10 points (5-5=10) in his last 10 games against them. Hemsky currently shares the team lead with 40 career points (11-29=40) in 55 games against Colorado.
OH CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN!
Stars captain Jamie Benn posted an assist on Tuesday night in Winnipeg, extending his current point streak to a season-long eight games. Benn has now recorded 13 points (7-6=13) during his eight-game streak, which is now the longest active point streak in the NHL. The captain paces all League skaters since the All-Star break, posting 20 points (10-10=20) in the 15 games since the break. Benn is now tied for eighth in the NHL with 60 points (23-37=60) this season, and is just four points behind the League leaders (P. Kane - CHI, J. Voracek - PHI, N. Backstrom - WSH; 64 points). The Victoria, B.C. native currently shares 10th in the League and first on Dallas with 37 assists, while he's tied for 16th in the NHL with 23 goals in 61 games. Benn currently leads the Stars with four points (0-4=4) against Colorado this season, and comes into Friday's tilt riding a five-game point streak (1-5=6) against them.