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Stars Offense Ignites In Win Over Blue Jackets; Playoff Race Tightens

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Another favorable day in scoreboard watching and a win sees the playoff race getting even tighter — with the Stars closing in on that last spot.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Dallas Stars Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets may not technically be eliminated from the playoff race for the fourth spot in the Central Division this season, but after enduring back-to-back losses to the Dallas Stars you can likely stick a fork in them. For their part, the Stars once again looked like a team that knows that it needs wins if they want any hope of climbing into that spot. With so many overtime games, they’ll need to win that spot free and clear — any tie in points they’ll most likely lose thanks to a lack of regulation/overtime wins.

So they need wins, and they need them without giving away points to the opposition — a feat that’s been hard for them this season considering the number of overtime/shootout losses experienced by the team.

The Blue Jackets actually scored the first goal in this game, not unlike Thursday night’s game. In what proved to be a re-run of that same storyline, once the Stars started scoring, they couldn’t stop. The proverbial flood gates opened in the second period after the two teams played to a tie in the first 20 minutes.

Vladislav Gavrikov opened the scoring off a slick feed from Ander Bjorkstrand. Gavrikov drove to the front of the net and had his stick strategically positioned right behind Jake Oettinger’s skate to redirect the puck past the Stars netminder. That would be the only goal the rookie Oettinger allowed tonight, following up his 17 saves on 18 shots outing on Thursday with 21 saves on 22 shots tonight.

It would take six minutes of game time before the Stars captain Jamie Benn found the tying goal. Benn collected a John Klingberg shot rebound that Joonas Korpisalo bobbled, settled the puck, and then sent it to the back of the net from the slot. Though they were outshooting the Blue Jackets 11-7 at the end of the first 20 minutes, and yet tied on the scoreboard, it felt like Dallas was very in control of the game.

Denis Gurianov, who finally broke a goal-less streak against the same Blue Jackets on Thursday night, once again found twine. The Stars hit the offensive blue line with a numbers advantage, with a 3-on-2 developing. Gurianov streaked down the wing side and then passed back to Benn who was floating back towards center ice inside the blue line. Benn passed it right back to Gurianov, who fired it into the open net side.

The score would remain that way for all of three minutes. Then, the true explosion of offense broke through.

In the span of 3:26, Joe Pavelski, John Klingberg, and Esa Lindell would tack on goals to put this one out of reach. Pavelski’s came off of a ridiculous no-look spin-o-rama in front of the net, to which he credited Jason Robertson’s hockey sense to pass him the puck in that space for the goal.

Just 18 seconds later on the ensuing shift off the faceoff at center ice, Klingberg took a shot at Korpisalo’s five hole that went in. His defensive partner got in on the action a few minutes later. After a great individual effort by Gurianov, he found Lindell drifting into the slot area without a defender on him. Lindell’s shot snapped right past Korpisalo, ending the Blue Jackets netminder’s evening.

Dallas never got another goal past Elvis Merzlikins once he entered the game. However, instead of watching the team sit back with a multi-goal lead, Dallas appeared to be pushing for the next one. It’s the kind of killer instinct that has lacked in games past this year, but that teams that want to get into the playoffs — and have aspirations of making noise once there — need to have.

The Stars also got a little help in the scoreboard department. For a second straight game, the Nashville Predators lost while the Stars picked up two points. Based on points percentage, the Stars would sit in the fourth and final playoff spot now. The projected points for the two teams now sits at a two-point gap, with the Stars slated to play their next four straight games against the Detroit Red Wings. It’s the softest part of their remaining schedule, and can go a long way towards making up the deficit they’re still in before the tougher games come at the end of the season.