Before the CBJ puck drops: Dallas Stars (again)
GAME 80: Dallas Stars
39-29-11 — 5th place in the Central Division, 1 point out of the final Western Conference wild card seed
7-3-0 in last 10 games
SINCE WE LAST MET (on March 10th):
Tonight’s game is a kinda-sorta continuation of the March 10th game in Dallas, when the Stars’ Rich Peverley had a serious exacerbation of his pre-existing heart condition. As such, the Blue Jackets will be credited with the only goal scored in those 6 minutes of interrupted play, a Nathan Horton power play goal. The score will be 1-0 at the start of play, and the game will go for three 20-minute periods. (Horton is injured and won’t play, which makes his appearance on the scoresheet all the more curious.)
Since that night, the Stars have gone 8-6-1. They are 7-3-0 in their last ten, which tells us more about their current frame of mind. They also present an interesting counterpoint to last night’s Blue Jackets game against Phoenix, seeing as the Stars and Coyotes are fighting for that last playoff slot in the Western Conference. While sitting within two points of each other with three games remaining on each schedule, the Stars are rolling much more confidently of late than Phoenix (3-3-4 in their last 10). Dallas also is 8th in the league in goals for per game, as opposed to Phoenix’s 20th place standing. Then throw in that tonight’s game is at home for Dallas, instead of away last night for Phoenix, and I think you get the picture that this poses a more serious challenge to the Blue Jackets than one would think if glancing at the wild card standings.
Top scorers in Big D are:
In net, Tim Thomas had the morning skate-around with the non-starters today. That suggests that starter Kari Lehtonen will get the nod tonight. Lehtonen had to take 10 days off in March (including the CBJ game) due to a head injury suffered against Minnesota on March 8th. Anyway, he’s been back for a while now…and I daresay that his re-emergence has perhaps a little bit to do with the Stars’ improved win-loss performance of late. On the season, Lehtonen has had 63 starts, going 32-20-10 with a 2.45 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.
WHY THIS GAME IS IMPORTANT:
I went through the Phoenix and Dallas wild card scenario earlier, so suffice to say that the Stars will be plenty motivated to win tonight. I’m sure they would love nothing more than to put another two points between them and their closest wild card competitor.
As for the Blue Jackets, the overarching issue is that of clinching a playoff berth. If the CBJ win – regulation, overtime, shootout…matters not – they will have enough standings points to ensure that they have qualified for the Stamley Cup Playoffs for only the second time in the team’s history.
It won’t be easy, what with fatigue from playing last night, mounting injuries, a road game against another playoff-hungry opponent…but when you’re presented with stakes like that, you find reserves of strength that you never know you had. Let’s hope the CBJ do just that tonight.
WHO I’LL BE WATCHING:
Tonight is all about team defense. The Blue Jackets will already be up by one when the puck drops, but – more importantly – the Stars know how to score goals and aren’t afraid of doing so.
It might make sense to say, "I’m watching assistant coach Craig Hartsburg" as he has day-to-day management of the CBJ blue line, but it’s much more fun to watch players.
Let’s go tonight with Jack Johnson. Johnson is the team’s warhorse defenseman. He logged over 28 minutes yesterday and while only getting a single shot off and registering a -1 on the plus/minus scale for the night, the minutes alone demonstrate that when Johnson is on all cylinders, the team’s defensive outlook improves dramatically. Look for Johnson to lock up the likes of Seguin and Benn, as well as make that all-important outlook pass for the opportunistic CBJ offense. Who knows, old Jack’s been known to join the rush on occasion as well.
While I’ll be watching Johnson, I’d also suggest keeping an eye on a couple of others – the smooth-skating and unflappable Ryan Murray and James Wisniewski, who bailed out Sergei Bobrovsky more than once last night.
YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION:
Make sure to tune in, as there’s a chance that you’re going to want to tell your kids where you were after the game tonight… (Hope I didn’t jinx anything!)
Will the CBJ clinch the playoffs tonight? This is what it’s been about, folks…so make sure to tune in and cheer on the CBJ from Ohio! Go Jackets!