Monday, April 15, 2013
Need to know: Stars aligning for Dallas?
By Pierre LeBrun
Sell, sell, sell ... win, win, win!
The Dallas Stars continued their mystifying ways over the weekend with wins Friday night at Nashville and Saturday at home against San Jose. This stretches their season-high winning streak to five games and very much keeps their playoff hopes alive.
The winning streak began after the April 3 trade deadline came and went, the Stars using the annual transaction window to shed three big-name UFAs from their roster. They dealt longtime captain Brenden Morrow to Pittsburgh, future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr to Boston and No. 2 center Derek Roy to Vancouver.
White flag? Hardly.
The Stars have reeled off win after win since the deadline passed and are just two points out of a playoff spot with less than two weeks to go in the regular season.
"It's been good, I think the young guys like [Alex] Chiasson and [Matt] Fraser have stepped in and have really added a lot of spark," Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk told ESPN.com. "But one of the keys, too, has been the veteran guys and how they've responded, guys like Vernon Fiddler, Eric Nystrom and Erik Cole and Ray Whitney -- those guys have been terrific. They've really stepped up their games."
Here's where it gets tricky: the schedule. The Stars have some mighty tough games left, starting Monday night at Chicago, followed by a home date Thursday with Vancouver, then Friday at St. Louis, Sunday at Los Angeles, April 23 at San Jose, April 25 at home to surprising Columbus, and the finale at home April 27 versus Detroit -- the club the Stars are chasing for eighth in the West.
If the Stars make it in, they will have earned it, that's for sure.
Of late, goaltending has been central in the winning streak. The Stars have been outshot in four of their five wins during the streak, but Kari Lehtonen and Richard Bachman have been outstanding in net.
Bachman has filled in lately as Lehtonen rests a sore groin. Bachman is just part of the unlikely starring cast for Dallas, which also includes rookie Chiasson with six goals in six games, and veteran center Fiddler putting up 10 points (2-8) in his past six games. (Veteran Stars beat writer Mike Heika had a nice piece on Fiddler in Monday's Dallas Morning News.)
"Going back to the last five we've won in a row, they were not easy games, they were heavy games against divisional opponents," said Nieuwendyk. "We've been battling hard, we know the road ahead is tough, too. But we're playing a good brand of hockey right now and I think the guys feel pretty confident with it."
The schedule suggests Dallas will fall short, but it would be ironic if the Stars made the playoffs after shedding their UFAs before the trade deadline. I say ironic because the Stars were also on the playoff bubble in 2010-11 and 2011-12 but chose to not trade away assets at those deadlines in the hope of making the postseason, only to fall just short each time.
Is karma at play here? We will soon find out.