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Two Steps Forward, Four Points Back

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As Dallas clings desperately to their playoff hopes, the remainder of this home stand could seal their season’s fate.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Someway, somehow, the Dallas Stars are alive in the playoff race.

Granted, they are four points back and need to jump four teams - Los Angeles, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Calgary - but they are in the race. With the season dwindling down and chances becoming limited - just 33 games left - the Stars need to make a move, and make it now.

And their current six-game home stand is the last best chance for it.

Dallas lost game one of the home stand 4-3 in overtime (shocking) to Washington Saturday evening. Watching that game Saturday night while taking down some adult beverages and chicken wings was frustrating.

Through more than 40 minutes minutes of hockey the Dallas Stars were up two goals and playing some good hockey against the mighty Capitals. Yes, Braden Holtby was not in net. But Philipp Grubauer was 8-1 (now 9-1) on the season, and has a 2.05 goals against average and .925 save percentage. Not shabby numbers.

And then it was groundhogs day for many Stars fans.

Dallas could not stay out of the box in the last period and Washington went 2-2 on the power play in the third period, the penalty kill again killing the Stars’ momentum. Tyler Seguin would come the closest to getting the regulation win back for the Stars, hitting the crossbar on a wide open net and then looking to the heavens as if he were cursing out the hockey gods. The Stars would end regulation tied at three goals apiece.

It would take just 19 seconds for Jay Beagle to give the Caps the OT win.

Talk about a punch to the gut. Dallas has proven, several times this season actually, it still has several bullets left in the chamber. The issue, though, is they continually shoot themselves in the foot night after night.

Jamie Benn is third on the club with 41 penalty minutes. He is also a minus-10 on the season. Jason Spezza, who has been quiet offensively recently, is a minus-13. And Seguin, who leads the club with 45 points, is a minus-15.

Dallas is second in the league with an average of 11:26 of penalty minutes nightly. Coupled with the second worst penalty kill unit (74.2 percent), that's a recipe for disaster. Though not as much at home: the Stars have the worst road PK average of 68.2 percent but kill at a 81.3 percent on home ice.

Dallas has also given up the third most shot attempts at 2,195, but are top 10 in shot attempts for, with 2,168. Making matters worse, Dallas has allowed 57 goals in the third period. The most in the league.

So, let’s look at the schedule, shall we?

Up next for the Stars is a Central Division match-up with the Minnesota Wild. Back on January 14th against the same foe, Dallas fought back from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game, but then lose late, 5-4.

Following Minnesota, Dallas welcomes in Buffalo and Toronto. The Stars were abysmal in their 4-1 loss to Buffalo on Jan. 16 in New York and Dallas has yet to play the young Maple Leafs. The home stand ends with Winnipeg on Feb. 2 and Chicago on Feb. 4.

At that time Dallas’ playoff hopes can be intact — or completely erased.

With the March 1st trade deadline looming, however, Dallas can make this very interesting. If they’re within reach or are in the top eight of the Western Conference, does Stars general mananger Jim Nill make a move?

And if so, for what?

A goalie? Sure, that would help, and names like Marc-Andre Fleury, Scott Darling and Antti Rannta have been thrown about. But what would Nill do with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi?

Defense? The market on veteran defensemen is thin this season. St. Louis may shop pending free agent Kevin Shattenkirk but would probably not deal him to a Central Division foe unless there was a premium paid by the acquiring team. Not to mention, if Dallas was interested, they could always wait and try to sign him in the offseason without having to give up assets in an acquisition.

Offensive help? Maybe a veteran presence like Shane Doan would help, or Dallas could use its depth to acquire Matt Duchene from Colorado. However, that’s very unlikely and would be an expensive proposition.

All of that will be worth a hill of beans if Dallas cannot gain ground in the wild card race. Tuesday night is again a must win game. The truth of the matter is every game from now on is a must win.

And if Dallas has any hopes of going back to the post season, this homestand is its last gasp.