The Dallas Stars have been optimistic about their playoff hopes all season. They knew they had plenty of games in hand and time to catch their opponents in the race. Well, that is no longer the case, but the team is keeping their hopes high.
“It’s been difficult all the way through,” Rick Bowness said. “We keep preaching that if we battle hard, we give ourselves a chance to win every night. It’s a little bit more of a challenge, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. We’re very positive here and we’re going to keep pushing the positive.”
Dallas currently sits four points behind the Nashville Predators for the final playoff spot in the Discover Central Division with only four games remaining on their schedule. They have just one game in hand remaining on the Predators, so the task in front of them is a tall one.
The Stars have had plenty of chances to flip the script on the playoff race. Over the last couple of weeks, they have found themselves within striking distance of the Predators, but have been unable to completely close the gap. They picked a terrible time to go on their current four-game losing streak (0-2-2) and missed a massive opportunity by losing to Nashville in overtime on Saturday night. That game alone could have pushed the Stars ahead in the standings going into the final week if they were able to get two points. Instead, they lost their 13th game past regulation and Nashville took an even bigger lead.
Roller Coaster of Emotion
The latest hit to the Stars’ playoff hopes came last night. Dallas faced the Florida Panthers on the road while Nashville visited the Columbus Blue Jackets. A regulation win for Dallas and a loss for Nashville would have pushed the Stars within one point of the final playoff spot and they would once again control their own fate. Instead, Dallas trailed 4-2 going into the third period while Nashville led the Blue Jackets 3-0 at the same point in the game.
That is when the roller coaster began as the Stars scored two goals in 11 seconds tying the game, 4-4. Tyler Seguin scored the tying goal in his first game of the season as the storybook ending seemed within reach. Near simultaneously, Columbus scored three straight goals to tie the Predators 3-3.
All of a sudden, Dallas looked like they would certainly gain ground in the race. However, just like it has all season for them, the tide completely turned once again. The Stars took a penalty in overtime and watched the Panthers hand them their 14th loss past regulation. Meanwhile, as they have most of the season, the Predators converted in overtime to beat the Blue Jackets. Just like that, Dallas trailed Nashville by four points and their playoff hopes were hanging on by a string.
“I saw a desperate team,” Jake Oettinger said about the third period Monday night. “If we’re desperate like we were for a whole game, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win going down the stretch. We’ve got to start the game the way we started the third period.”
The Stars are still alive in the race, but it is a long shot. The team needs to win their last four games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks on the road while getting some help at the same time. The Predators finishes the season with one more game at Columbus and two games at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. It is fitting that in order for Dallas to make the playoffs, they will need to solve the Tampa Bay team that has owned them since the Stanley Cup Final last season. The Stars are 1-4-1 against the Lightning this season and have been shut out in three of those games.
The math is simple. Nashville sits at 60 points while Dallas has 56. Since the Predators own every tiebreaker, they cannot gain more than three points in their final three games, or Dallas is eliminated. The Stars can reach a maximum of 64 points if they go 4-0 in their final four games. That would put them one point ahead of the Predators and into the playoffs.
Crazier things have happened in the NHL, and in this season alone, so it is not out of the question that the Stars will be in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, their chances have been severely reduced with their recent losing streak, and the Predators continuing to find a way to win. Either way, this last week should be a fun one.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!