Two points in the standings - but forget playoff race for a second. Tonight was fun at the American Airlines Center.
The Stars came out strong. They did their second-period trick of always seeming to out-score the opposition. Shenanigans were bountiful. The bipartisan crowd was playful. There was that inexplicable animosity that always seems to accompany the Penguins to the AAC.
The officials "let them play." And "play" and "play." Like in the playoffs.
It was a fun night of hockey in the waning days of March. It hearkened back a calendar year to a time when the Stars were building toward something. It was a nice atmosphere for a fanbase that's had a rough year.
A little taste of that for which we hunger. A little taste for what the Stars could be - a team that gets a third period lead to the finish line at home, for instance. One that got the goaltending it needed from Kari Lehtonen down the stretch.
Just a taste, likely - but wins over teams like Pittsburgh keep the dream alive for another couple of days. The Stars trail the 8th place Flames by seven points with 11 games to play and four teams to jump on their way who are just as desperate, including the Sharks and Kings now.
Nevertheless, some fun for the Stars fan at home where there's been none.
Was it pretty? It started out that way. The Stars were pressing the Pens hard in the first, allowing just one SOG through the first 10 minutes of the game, and it took a second power play for Pittsburgh to power over the three-shot line.
Rapid goals generated by Jamie Benn - first double shifting with Ritchie and Horcoff, then with his mates Seguin and Eakin - continued their dominance and broke a 108 minute scoreless streak. Halfway through the game it looked like they could pull away.
Kari Lehtonen, though earning full marks for this one when all was said and done, let one in from distance that needs to be stopped and the game changed. The third period felt like a long penalty kill.
The Stars did not take a shot in the game's final 14:49, but found a way to hold on.
The story of the game was the nastiness, which emanated primarily from the lone Penguin goal-scorer in Kris Letang, who reached Corey Perry levels of distasteful behavior as the night progressed after Curtis McKenzie accosted him at the conclusion of the first period.
Each team would record seven minor penalties on the evening, some of which were inexplicable, but it was the no-calls on both sides that elevated the game's intensity beyond a likely meaningless late-season contest.
Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel did not receive penalties. That's noteworthy after a game like that.
Stars fans were treated to ample helpings of Nemeth-Klingberg tonight on the back-end, and the advanced metrics floating around at the second intermission were sparkling. We'll have to see where they ended up - internet in the press box is failing me.
The Ritchie-Horcoff-McKenzie trio continues to look the part of a second line to the eyeball test. Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky continue to struggle to create like you'd think they can. Ritchie led the team with six shots on goal.
It's a good win- Albeit one with a team missing Horqnvist and Evgeni Malkin. The Chicago Blackhawks will arrive swinging a much longer sword on Saturday night, and somehow an even more vocal supporting throng in the stands. If the Stars can find a way to win through there they'll find the Sabres waiting after that, and perhaps a chance to build a little drama as time ticks down.