Stars Look for Separation in Standings Against Desperate Avalanche

Root for Avalanche Tuesday night? Check. Root against Avalanche Thursday night? Check. The wonders of the playoff race in the Central.

The Dallas Stars enter the final games of the regular season having established an identity as a “defense first” group that relies on superb goaltending and sporadic offense to win games. Throughout the year, that “defense first” mentality has contained a significant portion of rope-a-dope, allowing teams they’re playing to punch themselves out in the first period. The Stars, finding their legs in the final 40 minutes, have found a way to win more times than not.

Lately, the strategy seems to have taken on a new life. Instead of just facing a shot barrage to start the game, Dallas has taken to giving up an actual goal, forcing themselves to play from behind while getting up to game speed.

The last time that Dallas made the playoffs, fans rarely felt that the Stars were out of a game. Former head coach Lindy Ruff could just turn on the goal spigot, pot a few, and the team would be back in it. For this year’s team, it’s more of a grind, but it’s a grind that they are finding their way through. When going down early, the Stars don’t always tie it back up, but they rarely give up goals that take the game out of reach, at least until the net is empty.

Along the way, the Stars have developed a sense of calm in tight games. Long-suffering fans know that gut-wrenching feeling. Up by one late in the game, the question was never if they’d give up the tying goal, but when and how.

As a Stars fan, it’s a bit disconcerting. Years of turtling that ultimately lead to losses is what fans have come to know. Somehow this year, tight games in the third period just don’t portend another “how’d that happen” disappointment. This team is finding ways to win.

Don’t look now, but the Dallas Stars are 7-2-1 over their last 10 games, and are best in the Central Division, and second only to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference. Vegas and the Carolina Hurricanes may be getting the big headlines for their playoff pushes, but Dallas is on a bit of a stealth run of their own.

The Colorado Avalanche arrive in Dallas fresh off of a needed 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild. At the beginning of the week, to have any realistic shot at the playoffs, the Avalanche needed to win both of these games. Now, they’re halfway there. A regulation win means a 20 percent swing in Colorado’s playoff chances.

Since being shutout by the Stars 4-0 on March 7, the Avalanche have scored exactly three goals in each of four of their last five games. The exception was a 3-0 shutout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Including the Dallas game, four of their last six games have been shutouts.

There have been a few changes to the Avalanche lineup in the last two weeks. Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog remains out for another two to four weeks since wedging himself between Ben Bishop and the boards, and that change has shuffled through the entire forward lineup for Colorado. Also, Philipp Grubauer has put the team on his shoulders in net, averaging one goal allowed per game while posting a 3-1-0 record, including two shutouts.

After his healthy scratch on Tuesday, Jason Spezza draws back in, centering the fourth line. Valeri Nichushkin eats nachos, in spite of his recent solid play.

Both teams are playing quality hockey at this point in the season. The stakes are high, so expect a playoff atmosphere both on and off the ice.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Roope Hintz - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Jason Dickinson - Joel L’Esperance
Mattias Janmark - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Andrew Cogliano - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy

Ben Bishop

Colorado Avalanche Lineup

Derick Brassard - Nathan MacKinnon - J.T. Compher
Colin Wilson - Carl Soderberg - Mikko Rantanen
Alexander Kerfoot - Tyson Jost - Matt Calvert
Gabriel Bourque - Sven Andrighetto

Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov - Patrik Nemeth
Ryan Graves

Philipp Grubauer

Keys to the Game

  • The Avalanche are a desperate team and need this win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Match the intensity of Colorado without losing structural focus.
  • The line of Benn-Seguin-Radulov had a big game against the Florida Panthers. In the past, the Stars have become passive when their stars take over games. Don’t sit back and defer.
  • The power play showed signs of life against Florida, and Colorado has a bottom-five penalty kill. Win the special teams battle and win the game./

Did you know?

The Avalanche lead the NHL in total penalty minutes per game, averaging 10 minutes for and 10 minute against per game.