The Dallas Stars continue to fight for that final playoff spot as the season comes to an end. They unloaded a full clip on the Buffalo Sabres in a 4-3 win last night at the American Airlines Center throwing a startling 100 pucks at Anders Lindback, 84 of which were at even strength.
It may be too little too late though. The Winnipeg Jets walloped on the artists formerly known as the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings have already defeated the New Jersey Devils. The Jets win leaves the Stars still eight points out of the final playoff spot with nine games remaining on the schedule. The odds of a return to the playoffs are slim, but they do still exist.
The results the past month are both encouraging and depressing. The Stars continue to fight hard. They've shored up the defensive end of the rink. The goaltending seems to have settled. The special teams are on the rebound. Through it all though it makes you wonder where this was all season. This is the team we all thought they would be coming out of training camp.
Ales Hemsky has been exactly the player the Stars thought they were getting in the offseason. The confidence he displayed last night to keep this play alive to lead to the game winning goal was terribly impressive.
Coming out of training camp John Klingberg was just a whisper who happened to grow into high pitched screeching as the season wore on. The pass he made to Cody Eakin to set the game winning goal up was a thing of beauty. Top notch hockey IQ was on display last night and we were fortunate to see one side dominate in that regard.
The list of "What If's" is long for this team. What if it came together earlier? What if Patrik Nemeth doesn't get injured? What if Valeri Nichushkin wasn't hurt? Could an earlier promotion of Curtis McKenzie or Brett Ritchie have made a difference? These questions, while fair, are pointless at this segment of the season. We have all offseason to tackle these and many more questions. Fortunately, right now, we're getting to watch some entertaining hockey.
Cynicism is hard to ignore in this situation. The cynic will point out that now that most of the pressure is off the Stars are playing well, and no one can really refute the claim whether it is fair or not. There are many ways to interpret the situation, and most will have some grain of truth in them.
What we can't deny or lose sight of is how well they are playing. This is encouraging for next year. The current group is showing what they can do if current management sticks with them. Will the Stars brass take note, or continue to augment the current group? It seems foolish to rest on your laurels when the team will in all reality miss the playoffs, but the recent results are hard to ignore.
This has been a tough season at times. I came to grips with the reality that the playoffs were unlikely before the trade deadline. They dug themselves too deep of a hole too early in the season. I still hold out hope, as should all of you, but whether they make the playoffs or not I'm enjoying watching this group finally play to their potential.
This isn't a run of luck. The Stars are routinely outplaying good and bad opponents alike. If the last nine games are as enjoyable as the previous month has been then at least the Stars are making George Costanza proud by ending on a high.