A long and tiresome but possibly rewarding week lay ahead of the current eighth seed Dallas Stars. They prepare to match up against a wide variety of teams including the off-season ready but still unpredictable Nashville Predators to the Phoenix Coyotes, the team that they just so happen to be fighting for the final spot with in the playoffs. The Stars may hold a narrow 1 point lead for the time being, but there is no possible way they will be playing past April 13 unless they can finish strong and outmatch Phoenix’s record. Following these 5 tips wouldn’t hurt either…
1. Keep injuries to a minimum
The Stars have done exceptionally well in keeping their injury toll very low this season. Aside from former Dallas Star and assistant captain taking an awkward plunge against Chicago back in November and breaking two bones in his knee or Rich Peverley’s scary collapse back in early March, they have altogether remained for the most part healthy. The Texas Stars, their AHL affiliate, have also had their back by the ability to produce strong and capable forwards and defensemen when needed. Ray Whitney was recently benched after a hit against Carolina that caused a lower-body injury. Erik Cole was finishing the recovery of his 2-week injury suffered against Philadelphia and was able to step in Whitney’s position. Colton Sceviour took over for Cole 2 weeks ago and has since then put up 3 goals while for the most part skating on the third and fourth lines. Dustin Jeffrey, an acquirement from Pittsburgh off waivers back in the beginning of the season, has also proved himself with 2 goals. As long as the injuries can stay down and Texas can keep feeding the good talent, the Stars will continue to rise.
2. Keep increasing the depth scoring
Wow. For a little while there, it seemed as if the only way the Stars were going to make the playoffs was if Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin put on a near impossible clinic and won every game for the Stars by themselves. That was pretty difficult for Stars fans to swallow and comprehend. But then came March 28 against, who else but Nashville. The Stars scored 7 times in the 60 minutes and you’d never believe it but it seemed that every Stars player scored a goal except the dynamic duo. This tradition was carried on and since that day the Stars have scored 24 goals and only 5 have come from Benn and Seguin (they can help a little right?). A good team can only function if everyone contributes and the Stars seem to have finally learned that. If this continues, get ready to see something you haven’t in awhile Stars fans, the Stars playing for a pretty big Cup and meeting teams 4 times or more in a row to do so.
3. Less penalties and better PK
The Stars have looked atrocious on the penalty kill, something they haven’t looked like for a while. 2 of Carolina’s 4 goals came from Patrik Nemeth’s two minors and the Stars penalty kill is literally killing them each game. Now, their power play has started to look better but still has a ways to go (check it in the offseason, would ya Lindy?). As long as they can stop taking the unnecessary penalties, they won’t even have to worry about bettering the PK. Plain and simple.
4. Start games strong
Now in all fairness to the Stars, they have done an exceptional job in the back-to-back game situations and must continue this task considering they face one more in the regular season that could be crucial. It seems that every time the Stars start a game strong and earn the first tally, 50 minutes later I am enjoying the post game show and looking for the nearest rainbow with Razor (the Stars color analyst, long story don’t ask). But if they decide to start games like they did against FLA yesterday, I’m going to sink into another one of those recurring dark depressions from April to October. The main reason the Stars did not win Sunday is because of their start. They skated slow and steady like they had just played the night before (oh, right…). But they faced a similar stance just two weeks prior and smashed the President’s Cup contender the St. Louis Blues while on the road. They can do it but they just have to find their spark. If they start their fast paced gameplay when the first puck is dropped, they will be able to kick back at the end with their heads held high instead of dragging themselves to the locker room and wondering why they still haven’t spread apart from PHX.
5. Gain the valuable points they so desperately need
You want a bold prediction? If the Stars can gain 4 of a possible 8 points this week, they will move on. PHX faces a similar and just as difficult schedule as they do and have 1 point to catch up to which can mean a lot under certain terms. The Stars do not have the best track record of gaining necessary points in the final week of the season (then again, what Dallas team does?). But they have beyond proven that they can run with any team they want to this year, something they haven’t been able to say in the last 5 years. But as long as they gain the right mental toughness and use home ice to their advantage, they will be able to spread their gap and clinch the 8th seed, but this time for good. If they can bring the same skillset they brought last time they played Nashville and St Louis and Phoenix (those 2-1 losses to us still mean nothing PHX?). Bring back that Tampa Bay mindset and they will coast into the postseason.
The road will not be easy in the slightest but continue to keep the faith. These guys look for once like they know what they’re doing and they’re even more hungry for playoffs than we are (is that even possible?). Follow the steps and they’ll step into the long forgotten and almost unknown universe that is the postseason. And heeeeeerrrrrreeeee comes Nashville… Go Stars