The Dallas Stars have leaped back into the Western Conference playoff race with two statement wins.
With a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night and a three-game points streak for the Phoenix Coyotes heading into Saturday night, the Stars needed some big wins to keep up in the race for a Wild Card spot. The problem was that the Stars’ next two games were back-to-backs against tough opposition.
The Stars were 1-2-0 against the Nashville Predators this season before Friday night’s game in Dallas, and they were 8-9-1 in back-to-backs. The Stars jumped out to an early lead and remained disciplined in the first game. They looked hungry and determined, and they played with lots of energy and speed. The Stars out-shot the Predators 29-14 through the first two periods, and ended up with a 7-3 win. The seven goals scored were more than the Stars had scored against Nashville in the previous three games this season combined. The goal outburst marked the first time in six games that the Stars scored more than three goals. With the first game in the books, the Stars headed out on the road for the next contest.
The St. Louis Blues are one of the best teams in the league, Stanley Cup contenders and they were riding a three-game winning streak as well as a 10-game point streak at home. The Stars were 1-2-1 against the Blues this season, and all the numbers were stacked against them. In back-to-back games this season, the Stars were 5-9-1 on the road and 3-5-1 in the second game.
Yet again, the Stars jumped out to an early lead. Colton Sceviour’s second goal in as many games gave Dallas a 1-0 lead 3:53 into the first period, and the Stars never looked back. As they did against the Predators, secondary scoring led the way, and the Stars won 4-2. Kari Lehtonen’s 33 saves helped the Stars survive a weak outing by the special teams. Dallas was 0-for-3 on the power play and only 2-for-4 on the penalty kill.
Though the Stars made a habit of playing sluggish hockey in the second game of back-to-backs, they maintained their physicality and energy throughout the matchup Saturday night. Puck support, speed, a strong forecheck and a collective effort on defense led the way against the Blues.
It would have been one thing for the Stars to win any two games to get back into the playoff race, but these weren’t simply two wins. The Stars made a statement by having one of their strongest offensive outings of the season against a team that suffocated them twice earlier this season, and they outworked, outplayed and defeated one of the best teams in the league.
The gap between the Stars and Coyotes for the second Wild Card spot is down to one point, and the Stars have a game in hand. With two nights off before their next game, the Stars and Lehtonen will also get some much-needed rest before their schedule becomes hectic in the final two weeks of the season. The Stars now have plenty of confidence and momentum heading into the final eight games of the campaign as they look to break their five-year playoff drought.