The Stars had perhaps their biggest win of the season Saturday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, as they defeated the Ducks, 2-0. The win was the 3rd shutout in 6 games and it was the first time the Ducks, who have the best record in the league, were held scoreless. Then, as the team traveled to the desert of Phoenix, AZ to take on the Coyotes, the Stars were joined by their fathers who got to spend time with their sons on the road for the week. The bonding time seemed to further reward the Stars as they played a complete game on Tuesday against the Coyotes, winning 3-1.
Dallas played a very patient and at times, methodical game which is the key to success against a Dave Tippett coached team. Most importantly, the team didn’t get frustrated when Mike Smith played like…well, Mike Smith. Picked as the number two star of the night, Smith made 38 saves on 40 shots faced, and his glove was just incredible tonight. But the Stars kept firing and eventually, produced enough pressure on the forecheck.
Trailing 1-0 and on the power play, Cody Eakin and Shawn Horcoff forced an early pass attempt from David Schlemko that ended up clipping the back of the Coyotes net. Rich Peverley picked up the loose puck, found Tyler Seguin on the half boards and one-timed the puck back to the front of the net where Horcoff put the puck on his back hand and pushed the puck through Smith’s five-hole.
Despite being careless at times with the puck, the Stars only gave the puck up 8 times. It seemed like more because the tenacious Phoenix team produced 13 takeaways. But you just felt that as long as the Stars played a good position game and kept their errors to a minimum, that the score would ultimately favor Dallas (yes, I know…good position and puck possession generally lead to wins).
So, the Stars now sit just two points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. Now, before it gets pointed out that 4 out of the last 5 years have seen the Stars within 3-5 points going into the final weeks of the season only to find themselves on the golf courses by the end of April, there’s something about this team. I’ve been saying for the last month that if Dallas can be within 3-5 points of the final spot heading into the Olympic break which starts after this Saturday, then I like our chances of making the postseason. Sure, Dallas has a heavy mix of Nashville and St. Louis in the “2nd half” of the season, but they’ve also got the likes of Carolina, Flyers and Blue Jackets. Yes, Columbus has been hot as of late, but let’s see how they come out of a 3-week break.
The schedule is home heavy and the opponents seem to be…how shall I say this…of lesser quality than the seemingly 17 times the Stars have faced Chicago. But regardless of who the Stars are playing, head coach Lindy Ruff seems to have the team playing to their strengths. Dallas blocked 20 shots tonight and didn’t have double-digit turnovers. The power play has found a little flicker to it and if they can continue to work on the man advantage during the break, it could actually become a weapon to be feared. Dallas is 5-1-1 in their last 7 games and has outscored their opponents 24-9 in those games. They have picked up 14 out of a possible 22 points since ending their 6-game losing streak (64% of the points available). Tomorrow if the Stars win in San Jose, they will have gained the coveted final playoff spot as they will have the same number of points as Vancouver in less games played (higher points percentage).
So, perhaps after years of taking them to practice before heading to work; after skipping poker night with the boys because their sons had a game that started at 8:00 AM; after seeing some of their sons leave home when most fathers are teaching their boys how to drive, the fathers of our Dallas Stars couldn’t have shown up at a more critical time. It’s been a grueling season thus far and the injuries are nagging and the travel is taxing. However, the strength and support that comes from a son’s father may have just filled the tanks for the Stars heading into the break. Some of the Stars will probably go home for a few days and see their families and fathers again. Three of the Stars will immediately jump on a plane and head half way around the world to represent their respective nation on the largest sports stage on earth. However, for those Stars who were fortunate to bond with their fathers on this trip will have an experience that will carry them far beyond the end of the season. Whenever that may be.