The Dallas Stars are currently a playoff team. With eight games left to play, the Stars own the second wild card spot in the Western Conference and are tied with the Nashville with 89 points with the exact same record at 42-27-5.
Dallas has work left to do to fight off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights with them nipping at the Stars’ heels with 88 and 87 points respectively.
But as it stands presently, Dallas is not just a playoff team, but on track to have one of the best regular seasons in the past 10-15 seasons.
These facts seem to be lost on some people. This team isn’t battling for a draft pick. It is in the middle of one of the fiercest playoff battles the West has seen in a while.
With how tense the final stretch run of the regular season will undoubtedly be, fans have every right to live and die with every high and low and the Dallas Stars are kings of sending their fans on a rollercoaster ride.
Look no further than the Dallas Stars previous two games.
Dallas put on an elite performance against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning with a gritty, determined 1-0 shutout on Tuesday.
Then on Thursday, the Stars erased multiple deficits before falling in overtime 3-2 to the Minnesota Wild.
The Stars peaked with one of their best wins of the season against the Lightning and then dipped with an unlucky loss in overtime to the Wild.
No Stars game is without its drama and Thursday’s spectacle came to a screeching halt when Frederick Gaudreau ended the game with a great individual effort that culminated in a high, blocker-side wrist shot past Stars goalie Scott Wedgewood 100 seconds into overtime.
The previous 99 seconds of overtime is where contention with some pundits came.
Radek Faksa and Luke Glendening started the 3-on-3 period with Miro Heiskanen and had people questioning why the coaching staff didn’t roll out two of the three Stars’ top forwards consisting of Jason Robertson, who led the team with two goals in the game, along with Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski.
That’s an absolutely fair criticism, especially with how the game turned out, but herein lies the microcosm of the Stars’ season.
Too often this team and each game is judged with results-based glasses.
Seconds before Wild goalie Marc-André Fleury sent a breakout pass to the streaking Gaudreau for the game-winner, the Stars’ strategy of starting Faksa and Glendening nearly paid off.
Minnesota trotted out all-star Kirill Kaprizov, who leads the team in points with 91 — nearly 20 more than the next Wild player — and Joel Eriksson Ek as its forward duo along with defenseman Jonas Brodin.
None of the three Wild players registered a shot and were forced into multiple tentative plays by the Stars’ trio of Faksa, Glendening and Heiskanen.
Then, when both teams made their changes, the Stars rolled out and Hintz and John Klingberg and the duo nearly combined for a breakaway to Klingberg.
Unfortunately, Hintz’s pass to Klingberg was just out of his reach and it led to the back-breaking goal from Gaudreau.
The Stars were one good pass away from potentially ending the game and their strategy of starting Faksa and Glendening paying off.
The difference between winning and losing, especially in overtime against one of the top teams in the conference, was in this case about 12 inches with Hintz’ missed pass.
Two aspects going against the Stars’ overtime strategy was the fact that Glendening was forced to overextend his shift and it led to a poorly-timed line change for Robertson, who was caught slightly out of position against the attacking Gaudreau.
Secondly, part of the reasoning for starting Faksa is his prowess in the faceoff dot. He didn’t win the faceoff and the Stars never gained control of the puck. You win some, you lose some. The strategy didn’t work, but to rip Rick Bowness and the coaching staff for a decision that nearly paid off is a bit too reactionary.
Hockey can be a simple game, but with as fast as the modern game has developed into, sometimes the puck doesn’t bounce your way. It didn’t for Hintz and Klingberg and it did for Gaudreau.
And that brings us back to the Stars’ season as a whole. Dallas is 14-5 in overtime and that may be the quickest and most accurate area to look at as the main reason the Stars are in a playoff spot.
Last season, overtime was cruel to the Stars as they were 6-14. Dallas finished four points behind Nashville for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. Meanwhile, the Predators were 10-2.
The margin for error in the NHL, and the Western Conference and Central Division overall, is razor-blade thin.
This season’s overtime success is a large reason the Stars are in playoff contention, so while it didn’t work out for the Stars on Thursday against Minnesota, it seems misguided to overly criticize their strategies, especially on a game-to-game basis, that for the most part have worked out really well for them.
Yes, it does make tons of sense for the Stars to start offensive-minded forwards and the stats back it up, but when 12 inches separated the Stars from a potential game-winning breakaway, it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind.
The Stars have their warts sure, but this team clearly has potential. From the goalie on out, Dallas is set up for success if it can make the playoffs. The Stars’ mix of veteran leadership with the likes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Pavelski and Klingberg has been there and done that. Mix that experience with their budding superstars in Hintz, Robertson, Heiskanen and Jake Oettinger, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the Stars’ chances in the playoffs and in the coming seasons.
It will be important for Dallas to keep winning and try to climb into the first wild card spot so the Stars can face the Pacific Division instead of the grueling Central headlined by the Colorado Avalanche.
Dallas is 9-3-2 in its past 14 games and if it continues that recent run of play, the Stars will be a fearsome playoff opponent for any team.
The point the Stars picked up against a strong Minnesota team could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs. In a game the Stars trailed multiple times, it’s important to keep every point earned in perspective.