The Dallas Stars have their playoff fortunes in their hands, but that grip is starting to loosen with the regular season in its final push.
The Stars (43-29-5, 91 points) have dropped two straight, which has made their hold on a Western Conference playoff spot more tenuous as they finish a trip against the Pacific Division-leading Calgary Flames (47-20-10, 104 points) on Thursday night.
After a 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, Dallas is two points behind the Nashville Predators for the first Western Conference wild-card spot and trying to hold off the Vegas Golden Knights, who are two points behind them. The Stars have five games remaining while Vegas has four.
“We were doing well before this road trip,” Stars forward Radek Faksa said. “Two tough games, but strong teams have to find a way, and that’s what we have to do in Calgary. It’s a huge game, one of the biggest games of the year.”
Dallas is in a 3-3-2 stretch that has allowed Vegas as well as the Vancouver Canucks (who have 87 points and five games remaining) to close ground.
The Stars suddenly are struggling defensively. They dropped a 6-2 clash to Vancouver on Monday, and up next is a Flames team that is more potent than both the Oilers and Canucks.
“They’re a good team, so it’s going to be a good challenge,” defenseman Esa Lindell said of the Flames. “We like the challenge and we have to be better — it’s as simple as that.”
“We’ll get it back,” coach Rick Bowness said. “I have full faith in this group.”
The Flames return home after a 3-2 shootout loss to the Predators on Tuesday but are on a 7-1-1 run and can clinch the Pacific Division title with a victory.
Even though they lost in Nashville, a game in which they erased a 2-0 deficit, the Flames believe their game is on the right track.
“Those are kind of the fun ones to play in, right?,” said forward Andrew Mangiapane, who collected both goals in Nashville and has tallied four times in five outings. “Makes us that much better. You want to play in those close games, and that’s what playoff hockey is all about. It was a good game for us to gear up and get ready the next couple weeks here.”
The game will be a chance for the Flames to reach a mark not seen in many years. Johnny Gaudreau already is at 108 points, and Matthew Tkachuk is at 99. If Tkachuk can hit the scoresheet, it will mark the first time since 1990-91 the Flames have two 100-point players.
Not that coach Darryl Sutter wants to hear such talk. With the playoffs just around the corner, he is trying to keep the players focused on other priorities.
“I’m not talking anymore about this individual stuff,” Sutter said. “It’s hard to score in playoff time. If some of these guys are going to play, then we have a chance to win a game.”
Coming back to force overtime in Nashville was a prime example of the determination Sutter is looking for. Mangiapane was around the net for both of his tallies.
“That’s how you score in the playoffs,” Sutter said. “Not many shots, and you have to take advantage of opportunities.”
–Field Level Media