The Dallas Stars took on an important road trip last week and passed with flying colors. As a result of surging at a critical moment in the season, they boosted their playoff odds to the edge of securing a spot.
Just about everything went right for the Dallas Stars last week during their four-game road trip. And considering the note that they entered the trip on, the stretch of success was much-needed.
The Stars started the swing off in Winnipeg against a Jets team that sat atop the Central division. Dallas hadn’t faced off with the Jets in over two months and had only played in Winnipeg once throughout the 2018-19 regular season in a game that they lost 5-1. The Jets were looking to pad their lead on the division title and had an intense home ice advantage on their side.
And yet, the Dallas Stars battled through. Dallas activated an unfamiliar and rarely-used offensive assault and pinned five goals (including two on the power play) on a Jets team that could do nothing but try and stop the bleeding as the Stars secured a 5-2 victory.
Two nights later, they were in Calgary to face the other Western Conference division leader. The Flames owned the second-best home ice record in the NHL and were looking to take a big step towards clinching the Western Conference regular season title.
But Dallas once again dug in their heels and defied the odds. In a game that was much more suited to the style they’ve adopted this season, the Stars pulled a 2-1 victory out of a low-scoring, defensive battle. They lost goaltender Ben Bishop to injury midway through the process, but once again relied on their power play to deliver the needed offensive punch while Anton Khudobin shut the door in relief.
Thursday night put the Stars in Edmonton and pitted them against the Oilers. But even on the second night of a back-to-back and going up against a non-playoff team playing loose and free, the Dallas Stars made it work. They rebounded from a slow start, clawed back from a 2-0 deficit in the final 30 minutes of the game, and won it on a Jamie Benn goal in the shootout.
Saturday night presented the Stars’ with their first opportunity to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their magic number had shrunken to two and all they needed was a win to secure their seat at the postseason table.
Although they couldn’t secure the two points, they picked up one. It required another rally following an unenthusiastic start, but the Stars were able to force their way to a shootout and cut their magic number in half before heading home for the final week of the 2018-19 regular season.
And so, here the Dallas Stars sit. 41-31-7 with 89 points in 79 games. One point away from securing their first playoff berth in three years. Recent wins against some of the best teams in the NHL.
But through all of the playoff race news and hype, it can be easy to forget about the recent past and only look ahead to the next game and the enticing weeks ahead.
That can be exciting, but the events that led to this excitement and anticipation deserve their due diligence as well. After all, the recent road swing could very well have pinned the Stars in a compromised position with one week to go in the regular season.
Following a 1-3-1 homestand that dropped their playoff odds by more than 10 percent, the Stars had a need for quick and consistent success as they hit the road. Considering their schedule had them up against some of the teams both at the top and bottom of the Western Conference, there was a certain challenge that awaited Dallas.
And had the Stars dropped the games against Edmonton and Vancouver instead of rallying in both contests, they would currently sit at 86 points and be in danger of dropping to the second wild card spot on Monday night as the Colorado Avalanche take on the St. Louis Blues. Had they also slipped when put under pressure late in the game against Calgary, they might even be tied for the first wild card spot at the moment and be in danger of falling two points back of the Avalanche.
But instead of playing the “what if” game, the Dallas Stars delivered at a critical juncture. They posted a 3-0-1 road trip, bumped their road record above .500 for the first time in the 2018-19 regular season, and have set themselves up for an easy path to a playoff spot.
The Stars showed on the trip that they can battle adversity, put together a win streak at an important time of the year, and outdo some of the top challengers in the West. They can win on short rest, use their offense and power play to their advantage, and spark furious and aggressive comebacks when needed.
It was a big road trip that could have tipped the Stars’ playoff scale in either direction. But with their immense success and a little bit of help from the teams around them, the Dallas Stars are still in the driver’s seat of their own destiny.