A number of weeks from now when it's all said and done there will be much said about whether or not the Dallas Stars' mission was accomplished by merely clinching a playoff berth, or if more should have been done once reaching the tournament.
For now, with eight games to go, Lindy Ruff is singing one of those particular tunes-
"Clinching is really important, but now it's moving on and making sure our game is in the right place," the Stars' bench boss said of the upcoming tasks.
For now his charge is to keep the focus of a group that no-doubt felt at least some of the same relief and jubilation that ran rampant through social media after his team dismantled the Chicago Blackhawks in just 20 minutes of play Tuesday night at United Center.
Tonight that focus gets tested as they forge ahead on this road trip to take on the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale.
Arizona is 10 points out of a playoff sport with just eight contests remaining- Meaning they're not going to qualify, but they are 4-2 in their last six and have allowed just four even-strength goals in that stretch.
I repeat again... In their last six games the Coyotes have allowed teams to score on them a total of four times at even-strength.
On the other hand, scoring can sometimes be a problem for them.
In 10 of their last 15 games the Coyotes have been held to two or fewer goals- Including having been shutout three times, and within that twice consecutively against the Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks last weekend. That's a portrait of a team that simply has massive trouble scoring. Except for the fact that they ran up the score on Dallas in the teams' last meeting in Mid-February.
On that occasion the Stars had one very particular problem- Stopping the speedy combination of Anthony Duclair and Max Domi, who combined to pile six points on the Stars in a 6-3 route in Glendale. Martin Hanzal also added a goal and two assists in the rout.
The 42 shots that night on Atti Niemi's net were a season high for the Coyotes and represented just the second time this year that they've eclipsed the 40-shot mark on the year.
This time Dallas will hope to be less accommodatng.
They'll have to do it without two of their top defensemen, however, as Jason Demers and Kris Russell will both miess this one with injuries, even as John Klingberg and Jordie Benn return to the lineup. If it's not one thing it's another.
In the pipes it's not clear who will get the nod. If Kari is going to be the guy down the stretch, and he appears to have earned that chance, will Ruff opt to establish his number one, or will he believe there is still value and hope in trying to establish Niemi as well even with just eight games remaining?
Check back after morning skate (factor in two-hour Arizona time difference) for more on that.
The Coyote lineup-
From Stars PR:
The Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes meet for the second of three times during the 2015-16 season, and the second game at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz. Dallas and Arizona play for the first of two times in a week, with the third and final meeting occurring on Thursday, March 31 at American Airlines Center. Dallas has won three of their last four overall games against the Coyotes and since moving to Arizona for the 1996-97 season, the Stars have recorded at least one victory on the road against the Coyotes franchise in all but one season (2012-13, 0-2-0). Dallas dropped the first meeting of the season, 6-3, on Feb. 18. at Gila River Arena with three players recording multi-point games including captain Jamie Benn (1-1=2), forward Tyler Seguin (1-1=2) and center Jason Spezza (0-2=2).
EAKIN' IT OUT
Stars forward Cody Eakin recorded a goal (1-0=1) on Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks and is now riding a five-game point streak (4-3=7) and has points in six of his last seven outings (5-4=9). Eakin's five-game point streak is the longest of his NHL career, breaking his previous career-high of four consecutive games which he has achieved twice during the 2015-16 campaign. In 74 games this season, Eakin has recorded 35 points (16-19=35), sharing second in the NHL and leading the Stars with four empty net goals. He ranks fourth on the club in both hits (88) and takeaways (38). The native of Winnipeg, Man. has points in two of his last three games against Arizona (2-1=3) and has registered six points (3-3=6) in 11 career games against them.