The Dallas Stars need to basically win-out, plus get loads of help that just isn't materializing. It's a grave they dug for themselves - but being in the NHL's best division (by a wide, wide margin) isn't helping much either.
Dallas trails these Calgary Flames tonight, and dearly need the four points they can wrestle from them in the coming week, but it won't harm a team they need to jump. The Central occupies five of the top-seven playoff spots (absurdity) in the West - the Stars cannot jump the Flames, or Kings.
But they must use them to grasp at the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild, if one of the two should happen to falter down the stretch.
And now they must do it without their heart, soul, and most impactful player in Jamie Benn, potentially.
Jamie Benn a question mark for tomorrow. Injured late in last night's game.— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) March 24, 2015
Was it the skate in the groin that Benn thought cut him? Was it the blocked shot off the skate? They're saying "late in the game" but it's anyone's guess as to what it is - you can rest assured that he'll go if he can. Every game is game seven for them right now - but what a severe loss if he cannot.
Tyler Segin has transitioned back to his natural position after a period at wing following his injury, and Ryan Garbutt waits for a chance at redemption in the wings, but Ruff will have to rearrange his troops without Benn while hopefully trying to leave McKenzie, Ritchie and Horcoff intact.
Kari Lehtonen - the real Kari Lehtonen - has been rolling and should start every game from here on out, one would think.
The defense will remain the same, though Trevor Daley is getting close to returning and will accompany the team on the trip.
The Flames are good at home. 10-4-2 in their last 16 in Alberta - including offensive outbursts such as: Six against Toronto. Six against Anaheim. Four on Boston. Five on Winnipeg. Four on Buffalo. Four on Edmonton. Four on Philadelphia. Five on Florida. They'll score on you.
Dallas should be familiar with that after Calgary has put some signature hurtings on them in recent seasons: Seven goals on 2/13/2013. Five goals in a visit 2012. Another seven in January of 2011.
Now that the San Jose Sharks appear all but toasted, Calgary is the poster-child for schadenfreude that is hoping the L.A. Kings miss the playoff. Both are tied at 86 points through 73 games. So though they battle against Dallas tonight, know that it is for a good cause. The Flames hold the tie-breaker with more ROW's - Dallas will have a good chance at affecting that race down the stretch with two match-ups against Calgary.
Calgary is led by Jiri Hudler's 65 points - and, annoyingly, youth - signaling their intention to stick around in the overly crowded Western Conference. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are second and third on the team in scoring - each 23 years old or younger. Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman round out their top five in points.
Four of their top-seven scorers hail from the blue line. They've an incredibly active defense that generates their offense.
Their top-heavy lineup:
Mark Giordano is out with an upper-body injury.
Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo have split time in the Calgary net, though Ramo has earned six of their last eight victories. He'll like be in net tonight with his 15-8-2 record, 2.53 GAA and .914 save percentage.
From Stars PR:
KARI'ING THE LOAD
Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen earned his 32nd victory of the 2014-15 campaign on Monday against Buffalo and has won his last three starts along with collecting wins in six of his last seven contests, posting a .932 save percentage and 1.72 goals-against-average over that span. The native of Helsinki, Finland has won his last eight road decisions (.921 SV% and 2.34 GAA) spanning nine games played and hasn't been credited with a loss on the road since a 3-2 defeat to Montreal on Jan. 27. Lehtonen currently shares sixth in the NHL with 32 wins, and is now just two victories away from matching a career-high.