Funny how the expected can suddenly get turned on its ear in the push for a playoff berth.
A week ago, after the trade deadline had passed and the Dallas Stars had sold off three key pieces of today for a bunch of tomorrows, they were whipped 5-2 by the Anaheim Ducks. Fair enough. The Ducks are a good team, running away with the Pacific Division and gearing up for the postseason, while the Stars had apparently turned their attention to looking at some kids and starting to think about next fall.
But since that loss a funny thing has happened to the Stars. Instead of simply playing out the string after GM Joe Nieuwendyk moved captain Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr in the days leading up to the April 3 deadline, the Stars have won three straight. Tuesday night, Dallas overcame the loss of netminder Kari Lehtonen early in the game to a "lower body" injury and scored four times in the third period en route to a 5-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
Ray Whitney, one of several pieces brought in last offseason to help catapult the Stars into the playoffs after four straight seasons out of the postseason mix, scored twice. So did journeyman Vernon Fiddler as the Stars look to the collective to keep their playoff dreams alive. The win moved Dallas into ninth place in the Western Conference, two points behind the Detroit Red Wings with nine games left for each team.
The loss of Lehtonen would be a backbreaker, at least in theory, although coach Glen Gulutzan described the injury as mild. Richard Bachman came on in relief, and while the youngster has struggled in a limited role this season with Lehtonen playing the bulk of the games, he was impressive, stopping 22 shots in 45:42 of play.
The road doesn't get any easier for the Stars. Of their nine remaining games, seven are against teams that are currently above them in the standings.
But maybe the schedule-maker knew something we didn't, because Dallas closes out the regular season April 27 at home against the Red Wings. After the trade deadline, many folks figured that would simply be another in a line of meaningless contests for a Dallas team that already was imagining next season. Might still turn out to be that way, but credit the Stars for giving us pause and for not playing to type.