The last quarter of the NHL season is upon us and the Dallas Stars have a favorable five-game stretch coming up. If they take advantage of the opportunity, they can help cushion their position as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
With 19 games left in their regular season, the Stars are maintaining their grip on a playoff spot. They do not have the privilege of playing their fellow Western Conference playoff bubble teams very often over the rest of the season. Only five of their remaining games are against teams below them in the standings that have a chance to supplant the Stars.
After beating the Vancouver Canucks 6-1 Thursday night, the Stars’ upcoming five games provide an opportunity they need to take advantage of. First, they host the Minnesota Wild, who have a firm grip on the first Wild Card spot in the West. They then play a back-to-back against the Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues. The Stars need to exact revenge for their sloppy loss to Columbus earlier this week. The Stars tend to struggle in back-to-backs, but the addition of Tim Thomas means they can afford to rest Kari Lehtonen for one of the games without a reduction of talent in the net.
Next, they enjoy two days of rest before hosting the Calgary Flames. Their fifth game is against the Winnipeg Jets, and it is arguably the most important. It is the only game in two weeks that the Stars play against a team they are fighting with for the eighth seed. The Stars won both of the matches in Winnipeg earlier this season, outscoring the Jets 10-5 in the two games.
Every game at this point is critical and a “must-win,” but the games against the Wild, Flames and Jets are extremely important in maintaining a playoff spot. Three wins out of the next five games is very possible for the Stars and anything better would go a long way in the standings.
It is the time of year when every game feels like a playoff match and every shift feels more critical than the one before it. They have done well to bounce back as a team from their horrible start to the new year. Another solid stretch of hockey over the next five games can put them one big step closer to making the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.