Though Dallas Stars fans may be tired of hearing it year after year, the Stars have a good chance at making the playoffs this season. They control their own fate with four games left and a little cushion between them and their competition, the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Stars seemed to be on their way to the playoffs for the past five seasons, but they found a way to start their summers early each time. The repetitious heartbreak has caused the fan base to generally adopt a “prove it to me first” outlook that makes them hesitant at this point in the season.
During past 2 yrs, @DallasStars are combined 0-9-1 during the last 5 games of the season. I believe this season is different..Prove me right
— Bruce LeVine (@BruceLeVinePuck) April 6, 2014
The fact of the matter is that each Stars team during the five year long playoff drought was different. Different rosters, coaches, opponents and standings each year, yet they all get lumped together. The only player on the current roster who was with the Stars the last time they made the playoffs in 2008 is Trevor Daley. Jamie Benn and Kari Lehtonen arrived two seasons later and Alex Goligoski a year after that. What plagued the past teams doesn’t necessarily plague the current team. Just like the problems are not the same as in the past, the positives from this team are also different.
Here are five reasons why the Stars will finally return to the playoffs this season:
1- Kari Lehtonen
The Stars rise and fall with Lehtonen. Throughout most of his four full seasons with the Stars, he has shown that he can be an elite talent. At first, the knock on Lehtonen was whether or not he was a second-overall quality player as he was drafted. Then, his health came into question and his “injury-plagued” tag was brought to the forefront. Yes, he still misses time occasionally, but it has happened less frequently and he has been returning to action faster than in the past.
Now, the knock on Lehtonen is whether or not he can win a big game. Lehtonen tends to play better in games when he is constantly facing shots, but three of the final four teams are considered more defensive or two-way teams, so he will have to find a way to get into a rhythm whether or not a lot of rubber gets thrown his way. He is among the league leaders in games played this season and is used to playing three-fourths of the season. He is familiar with carrying a heavy burden, and tends to maintain his calm demeanor in net no matter the situation. If he plays like the elite goalie he can be, the Stars should see their playoff drought broken this season.
2- The Dynamic Duo
Benn and Tyler Seguin led the Stars’ offense all season, and they will have to continue to do so for the last four games of the season if they want to make the playoffs. The team and fans hoped for great things from the duo, but it is fair to see their chemistry and production has pleasantly exceeded expectations. Both forwards are even being mentioned in the distant Hart Trophy rumors, but the fact that they both have carried the team together hurts the chances of one of them being a finalist for the award.
Seguin looks like he will end the season in the top 10 in league scoring with Benn not far behind. The gap between Benn and Dallas’ third-leading scorer, Goligoski, is 35 points. Such a large gap demonstrates just how much Benn and Seguin mean to the Stars, and that’s just in terms of offense. They have shown they can take over a game instantly, and they will be counted on to lead the march to the playoffs.
The Stars teams over the past five years also had leadership and some grizzled veterans to help lead the team down the stretch, but the leadership of this team is different. Benn has taken the captaincy to heart and led the team by example. Veterans Ray Whitney, Vernon Fiddler, Erik Cole and Shawn Horcoff have paved the way for the young players, but even 22-year-old Seguin has stepped into a leadership role. His experiences with the Bruins have helped him take younger players such as Valeri Nichushkin under his wing. Even Brenden Dillon has been put into a small leadership role in just his second NHL season. He helped bring along some of the younger defenseman, especially when the team’s defense was spread thin in Decemeber due to injuries.
All the leadership on the ice is only enhanced by the leadership behind the bench. Lindy Ruff and the assistant coaches have brought in a new system and a new identity that the players have bought into. Ruff’s patience, experience and general positive outlook have helped put the Stars on the doorstep of the playoffs. Although there have been growing pains this season, the Stars have taken great strides forward behind the superb leadership throughout the team.
4- Depth Scoring
It comes and goes, but the Stars seem unstoppable when the secondary scoring steps up. Just last week, the Stars rode a three-game winning streak behind explosive secondary scoring. In each of the three games, a line other than the first took over and led the Stars to victory. Over the past five games, the second line has registered nine points, and the third and fourth lines have tallied eight points each. If the Stars can find a way to continue to get production throughout their lineup, they will be a scary team heading down the final stretch and into the playoffs.
5- The Schedule
The remaining schedules are really remarkable. Both Stars & Yotes have NSH, CBJ, each other, and a top West team. That spot must be earned.
— Josh Bogorad (@JoshBogorad) April 7, 2014
The Stars have struggled on the road this season and against Eastern Conference opponents. Their 17-19-4 record on the road will give way to their 21-10-7 home record as three of Dallas’ final four games will be at home. Fortunately for the Stars, three of the four games will also be against Western Conference opponents. Dallas record against the East fell to 13-16-2 after a 2-2 road trip last week. Against the Western Conference, however, the Stars are 25-13-9. An extended return home against familiar foes should help the Stars, especially since they are 6-3-1 this season against those Western Conference opponents.