By all accounts, the Dallas Stars are a good hockey team.
In terms of speed, few teams can match their overall agility, both offensively and defensively. They are a Top 10 team in most puck-possession metrics. They have a bonafide number one goalie, one of the most dynamic 1-2 forward punches in the league on their top line, and a head coach with a wealth of experience both in the NHL and internationally.
Yet, in Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Stars were handed a tough, sobering reminder of the sizable gap that exists between good teams and great teams.
The Stars generally played well throughout the game, generating offensive chances, limiting turnovers, and they even kept the score within one goal until the dying minutes. However, it all wasn’t enough to defeat a great Blackhawks team, a team that won the Stanley Cup in both 2013 and 2010. The Hawks controlled the majority of the play, outshot the Stars 42-27, and skated away with a 4-2 victory.
With only 10 games remaining in the regular season and the Stars sitting in 9th place in the Western Conference, it was a rough loss at an unfortunate time. But if the team can learn anything from a schooling by the Hawks, they’ll learn what a great hockey team looks like.
They’ll need it, too. With time running out the Stars will need to elevate their play from that of a good team to a great team if they want to make the playoffs this year in a powerhouse Western Conference.
The Stars (79 points) are currently three points behind the 8th place Phoenix Coyotes (82). They technically have a game in hand on the Coyotes, but they’ll start one of those games, April 9th against the Columbus Blue Jackets, down 1-0 due to the sudden postponing of their March 11th game against the Jackets because of Rich Peverley’s bench collapse and rushed trip to a nearby hospital. It’s almost become a two-horse race for the final spot in the West, with the 7th place Minnesota Wild resting comfortably at 85 points, while the Vancouver Canucks sit in 10th place with 78 points but only eight games remaining.
Unluckily for the Stars, the Coyotes are playing very inspired hockey as of late, going 6-3-1 in their last 10, the most recent of which came in heroic fashion: beating the East’s second place team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, by a score of 3-2, on the road, on the second end of a back-to-back, and without their top goaltender in Mike Smith.
Finding a way to overcome adversity when they’re backed against a wall is the type of habit that great teams have, and it’s something that the Stars will desperately need to hone if they want to make the playoffs this season. They play six of their last 10 games on the road, there are three sets of back-to-backs, and they have tough opponents with the Blues (twice) and the upstart Tampa Bay Lightning. In all likelihood, and barring an epic Phoenix collapse down the stretch, the Stars will need to go 7-3 or 6-2-1 to finish the season to catch the Coyotes.
And, in perfectly fitting fashion, guess who Dallas’ opponent is in their regular season finale on April 13th? Yup, you guessed it, Phoenix.
While making the playoffs would be no small feat at this point, the Stars aren’t out of the picture just yet. In a lot of ways there is something special about this team, and they’ve pulled through in big moments multiple times throughout this season. However, none will be bigger, no test more daunting, than what is left to come. It will be a prime opportunity to show the hockey world exactly what type of team the Dallas Stars currently are.