Suddenly, things just got a lot more real.
Narrowly sitting atop the top spot in the NHL’s Central Division with the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks nipping at their heels, the Dallas Stars already knew that they had a hard sprint ahead of them over the final few weeks of the regular season.
However, a recent injury to Tyler Seguin that will sideline him for the next 3-4 weeks adds a whole new dimension to their situation.
While losing one of your top players to injury for a significant amount of time is never a good thing, this turn of events could end up being a blessing in disguise for Dallas for a few different reasons.
The Playoff Start Now
No Ifs, Ands, or Buts about it: playoff hockey is already here for the Stars. By no means, though, is that a bad thing.
With the loss of Seguin, combined with additional recent injuries to key players John Klingberg, Patrick Sharp, Jason Demers and others, the Stars were served with a loud wakeup call. The Stars had been underachieving for over a month, and now with a depleted roster and the playoffs just around the corner the team desperately needed to come together and turn things around in a hurry.
The Stars are coming off of a very impressive three-game home stand that saw them go 3-1-1 against some powerful opponents. Dallas lost decisively to the Los Angeles Kings (5-2) and closely in overtime to the Blues (5-4), but handily beat the Hawks (5-2) and the New York Islanders (3-0), and completed a huge 3rd period comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning (4-3). It was one of the best stretches of hockey that the club has played all season, and now Dallas seems incredibly fired up after finding notable success on home ice and in front of some raucous crowds.
With nine games left to go in the regular season the Stars seem to be really hitting their stride at just the right time.
“I’ve told the team we’re going to keep working on our game,” said head coach Lindy Ruff after the win against the Islanders. “The preparation we’re doing now isn’t just to make the playoffs, it’s to try and get in there and win the first round. Then we’ll talk about what we’ll do after that.”
“I think we had a pretty good week and did a lot of good things,” added forward Cody Eakin. “We have a few games left to tweak what we need to before the real season starts. But we played some good, hard hockey, and it’s been a good test for us.”
A Glimpse Into The Future
Another silver lining of the recent spat of injury bad luck is that some of the organization’s top young players have gotten a chance to step into the lineup and showcase their abilities. Depth is always important come playoff time, and some of those that were expected to be called up have not only gotten off to a running start, but at least one of them seems to have even solidified a roster spot.
Stephen Johns, one of the team’s top prospects, has dressed for the past five games and hasn’t looked out of place at all. A 6’3″, 215-pound right-shot defenseman that can both crush opponents and move the puck with his strong skating, Johns has given the Dallas blueline a tantalizing new dimension.
He even scored his first career NHL goal in the win over the Lightning:
His solid play certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by his coaches.
“His decisions with the puck have been excellent,” said Ruff. “The puck’s been out in the neutral zone, his gap has been good, he’s been physical. With any young D, when you can get out and recognize the coverage and recognize where that out is, he’s done a real nice job with that.”
Johns, along with Brett Ritchie, have used their size and physical play to inject a bit of spark into the Dallas lineup, and the newly-lit team seems focused on taking this boost of momentum and carrying it into the playoffs.
Derek Neumeier primarily covers the Dallas Stars, but also other various topics related to the sport of hockey. A Journalism graduate of Mount Royal University, Derek also writes for Defending Big D, and has done previous work with the Edmonton Oilers as a communications intern and Hockey Canada as a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter at @Derek_N_NHL