If either the Dallas Stars or the Carolina Hurricanes hope to qualify for the postseason, the time to get on a good roll is now.
The Hurricanes, who visit Dallas for a Saturday matinee against the Stars, find themselves five points out of a playoff spot with four games in hand. They’ve managed to stay in the hunt despite a sub-par 4-6-0 record in their last 10 games, including Tuesday night’s 5-0 thumping at the hands of the streaking Washington Capitals.
A couple of factors work to the Canes advantage: First, they have games in hand over all but one team ahead of them in the standings. Second, they play 17 of their final 30 contests at home, where they’re are an impressive 17-6-1 this season. With the final playoff spot in the East on pace for about 92 points, the Hurricanes need to maintain their season-long winning pace at home while increasing their points percentage on the road only slightly.
Following Thursday night’s 3-2 loss in Ottawa, the Stars flew home riding a four-game losing streak, their longest stretch of futility in what has become a long, frustrating season. Going 3-5-2 over their last 10 games, the Stars are eight points behind the Los Angeles Kings, occupants of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
How hard is it to make up eight points? Back in 2014-15, the Stars were eight points out after 70 games. They finished the season on a strong 9-3-0 run, only to end up seven points out of the playoffs. You read that right: The Stars won 75 percent of their last 12 games, but only gained a single point on the Winnipeg Jets, who entered the playoffs in the second Wild Card spot.
The 2016-17 Stars have 27 games remaining, so the postseason is still within reach, at least in theory. Two points Saturday afternoon would be a small, but desperately needed, step in the right direction.
Carolina Hurricanes at Dallas Stars
American Airlines Center – 1:00 pm CST
Broadcast channels – FS-SW, FS-CR
2016-17 Season Series: First Meeting of the Season
Carolina Hurricanes: 24-21-7 – 55 Points
Road Record: 7-15-6
Hot Players: Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm and Justin Faulk
Key Injuries: Bryan Bickell
Sebastian Aho – Jordan Staal – Elias Lindholm
Brock McGinn – Victor Rask – Teuvo Teravainen
Jeff Skinner – Derek Ryan – Lee Stempniak
Joakim Nordstrom – Jay McClement – Viktor Stalberg
Ron Hainsey – Brett Pesce
Jaccob Slavin – Justin Faulk
Noah Hanafin – Klas Dahlbeck
Dallas Stars: 21-24-10 – 52 Points
Home Record: 14-9-6
Hot Players: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Dan Hamhuis and John Klingberg
Key Injuries: Jason Spezza, Johnny Oduya, Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Tyler Seguin
Patrick Sharp – Devin Shore – Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel – Radek Faksa – Brett Ritchie
Jiri Hudler – Adam Cracknell – Lauri Korpikoski
Esa Lindell – John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis – Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth – Stephen Johns
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]1)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Stars didn’t practice Friday after flying in from Ottawa late Thursday night. With no morning skate Saturday because of the 1:00 p.m. start, the projected lines, defense pairs and starting goalie shown above are merely educated guesses. If the sound of an industrial-grade blender emanates from the Stars’ dressing room Saturday morning, bet against these projected lines.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]2)[/miptheme_dropcap] Stars defenseman Julius Honka was returned to the Texas Stars of the AHL Friday afternoon. That’s a good sign Jamie Oleksiak is ready to return to action. The 6-foot-7 blueliner has been out since injuring his hand against Anaheim Jan. 10. Now that he’s healthy, will he go back into the lineup or watch from the press box? And if he plays, who sits, Patrik Nemeth? Stephen Johns? Someone else?
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]3)[/miptheme_dropcap] Speaking of health, that’s part of the reason both the Stars and Canes are where they are in the standings. The Hurricanes have largely avoided the injury bug; as a result, seven skaters have played every game and five have missed just one game each. The Stars, on the other hand, have been plagued since before training camp. Tyler Seguin and Devin Shore are the only Stars to play every game so far this season, while Patrick Eaves has fought through nagging injuries to play in all but one contest.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]4)[/miptheme_dropcap] Another factor keeping the Hurricanes within striking distance of the playoffs is their special-teams play. Though their 23rd-ranked power play could stand improvement, the Canes have the top penalty kill in the NHL, at 86.5 percent.