Road swing could determine Stars’ playoff fate

On Saturday afternoon at American Airlines Center, the Dallas Stars beat the Calgary Flames 4-1 in a game that was actually much closer than the final score indicated. The Stars had a 2-0 lead in the opening frame before the Flames pulled one back before the first intermission.

And the Flames were dictating the pace of the game until Stars All-Star center Jamie Benn scored his second of the game with just over three minutes left, it gave Dallas a 3-1 lead and the game was over.

But the Stars needed that win on Saturday just to salvage a .500 record from their now concluded four-game homestand. Besides beating the Flames, who are having a very hard time putting the biscuit in the basket over their last five games, Dallas also beat the Coyotes on Tuesday in a shootout, a game where top goaltender Kari Lehtonen stood on his head long enough for the Stars to prevail although Dave Tippett’s Phoenix club did leave Big D with a point after losing in overtime.

Then there were the two losses of the homestand. Against Chicago, the Stars were basically run out of their own building, blitzed by a pair of early Blackhawk goals in yet another slow start for Dallas. And against Vancouver on Thursday, the Stars weren’t able to generate much offense and would have been shutout were it not for a fluky goal by Vernon Fiddler in the final period after Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider committed a costly mistake around his own goal.

Still, the Stars got results against two teams they needed to get them against and now they head out for a huge four-game road trip that will start in Western Canada and end in San Jose next Saturday with the club’s final back-to-back of the season.

After an up and down run of games at home, Stars rookie head coach Glen Gulutzan is definitely glad to be heading out on the road for much of this week.

“I think it’s a good time to go on the road to be honest,” Gulutzan said. “There’s a lot of pressure at home. There’s a lot of pressure at this time of year. The media and the coaching staff and everyone is you’ve got to win your home games. The players feel it and the players know it. They see the same things and know the same things that we do.”

The Stars head coach also feels that getting away from home for the next four could be a nice way to cure what currently ails his club.

“Sometimes it’s easier to get on the road this time of the year and just kind of let loose for a road swing and just kind of put pressure on other teams in their buildings that have to win games. So I think the road trip comes at a good time for us because our game isn’t quite where it should be and we can get away and get it to where it needs to be,” Gulutzan said.

One of the things he’d like to see the Stars do better was discussed after Saturday’s win over the Flames.

“Yeah, we have to start good. We have to be prepared to play because we put them behind the eight ball quick,” Gulutzan said. “Our individual battle level has to be a lot higher. When you lose battles, you’re going to give up some chances. That’s what the game’s about.”

Here’s a closer look at the four games on the trip:

At Calgary (Monday)

The Stars are 3-0-0 against the Flames this season but only one of those wins have come in regulation. Calgary has scored just six goals over their last five games, a trend FCD would like to see continue on Monday. Dallas won 3-2 in a shootout in their last trip to the Saddledome on March 4, a victory that was part of a perfect road trip through Western Canada. However, before their recent scoring woes, Darryl Sutter’s Flames had scored 21 goals over their previous five games. Since every one of the contests between these clubs this year has been a one-goal affair and since the Flames pretty much have to win out to even have a chance at the playoffs, this one figures to be an especially tough way to start out the road trip on Monday evening.

At Edmonton (Wednesday)

Edmonton has long been eliminated from playoff contention but that hasn’t stopped Tom Renney’s young club from playing the role of spoiler almost to a tee in the last month. So far in March, his Oilers have beaten the likes of the Panthers, Predators, Flames and also had a huge road win over the Sharks. Edmonton is just 18-15-5 at home this season but they are 5-2-3 over their last 10 games. The Stars have beaten the Oilers in the three previous meetings of the season, outscoring them 11-3 in the process, but facing a young and up and coming team like Edmonton, especially in front of their passionate fan base, is never an easy win. This game could be even tougher than Monday’s in Calgary.

At Vancouver (Friday)

The Canucks did win the last meeting by a 2-1 scoreline at the AAC on Thursday, but before that the Stars had won two straight over the reigning Western Conference champions. It looks like Vancouver will again be without Daniel Sedin, whose status continues to be day-to-day after taking an elbow to the head from Chicago’s Duncan Keith last week, an infraction he got a five-game suspension for. But even without Henrik’s brother on the ice, this is still a potent and talented team. Alain Vigneault’s club is also pretty deep and they’ve only lost at home 10 times all year. After being on cruise control for much of February and in early March, it looks like this is a club finding the right gear, so this too will be a hard game for the Stars.

At San Jose (Saturday)

Like playing at Vancouver on Friday wasn’t enough, the Stars will also get to face San Jose at the Shark Tank on Saturday to close out the trip. Of course, Dallas’ lack of success in back-to-backs this year has been well documented and the Stars have also had their share of issues with the Sharks, especially at HP Pavilion, where they have lost both previous meetings this season by identical 5-2 score lines. This could be the last start in goal for rookie backup Richard Bachman. Although Gulutzan could roll Kari Lehtonen back out a second night in a row if his Finnish netminder doesn’t get a ton of work in Vancouver, but that’s a possibility that would have to rank as remote at best.