With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Dallas Stars have their playoff fate in their hands.
The Stars (42-27-5, 89 points) retain one of the two Western Conference wild-card spots, but Saturday when they host the slumping San Jose Sharks (29-33-11, 69 points), they realize they have little room for error as Vegas and Vancouver keep up the pressure from below.
Dallas has the same number of points as Nashville, who hold the West’s other wild-card spot, but Predators have more regulation wins, the first tiebreaker. The Stars are 2-1-2 in their last five games while Vegas has moved to within two points of the Stars and Vancouver has won five in a row to close to within striking distance, five points back.
The Stars felt they outplayed the red-hot Minnesota Wild on Thursday in an 3-2 overtime loss.
“That’s playoff hockey,” Dallas coach Rick Bowness said. “The difference in the game was (Wild goaltender Marc-Andre) Fleury. We outplayed them in all three periods, but we just didn’t put enough pucks behind him. We hit goalposts and had open nets we didn’t get the puck in. But that’s hockey.”
Still, the Stars claimed an important victory over the defending Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning earlier in the week.
“That’s two playoff-type games,” forward Tyler Seguin said. “In a regular season that’s the closest you’re going to get, so I think we’ve rose to the occasion … and that’s great.
“I don’t think — as a team or as individuals — we can really just flip a switch going into playoffs. You’ve got to be playing playoff hockey going in there. That’s why sometimes you see the lesser seeds come out and have upsets. They’re playing these games, fighting for our lives.”
The Sharks, long out of the race, were officially eliminated from playoff contention Thursday when they lost a 5-4 shootout in Chicago. Since joining the league in 1991, this is the first time they have failed to make the Stanley Cup playoffs in three consecutive seasons.
“It’s not what you expect coming into a hockey season,” captain Logan Couture said. “You expect to be in the playoffs, you expect to play for the Stanley Cup and I look at it this way: it’s one less year that you have a chance to win it. I’m getting older, so it hurts more and more each year.”
San Jose, which will be playing the third game in a five-game road swing, has lost its last eight (0-5-3) and boasts only one victory in 10 outings.
Coach Bob Boughner noted “We ran into about a month-and-a-half where we had seven, eight, nine veterans out of the lineup.”
“If you’re behind the race after Christmas, it’s not a good sign statistically,” Boughner said. “We just couldn’t stay healthy. When we did, we battled, we played hard, we were in a lot of games.”
Hurting San Jose’s playoff chances from the get-go was the decision to part ways with Evander Kane, even if it helped in their dressing room, after they released the mercurial forward in January.
“A lot of teams deal with a lot of issues,” Boughner said. “Obviously, the biggest issue for us was losing our most offensive player on a team that was already going into the summer starving for goals, knowing that that was going to be a weakness. So that hurt.”
–Field Level Media