Bag of Pucks – April 1 – Tracking The Run-in

This whole thing is draining.  And to think that for almost a decade (about a decade ago) we functioned as hockey fans hearing about this phenomenon, but then not totally grasping what people meant when they talked about the group of teams who basically consider their battle for the playoffs to be their playoffs.

The Stars back then were always assured of a playoff spot by Game #65 or so, and then would just play out the string by battling for seeding and getting guys rested and healthy for the 2 month march that lies ahead.  Those were the days.  Memories with Vinnie Paul….

Now, back to reality.  Because now, this Dallas hockey club is in the thick of this battle yet again.  They have put themselves in a position to be a part of this battle and it has given most of us a roller coaster of emotions since before the Olympic break.  After the olympic break has been ups and downs like you wouldn’t believe, but now here we stand with 8 games to play and the entire battle up in the air still.

It is emotionally taxing to say the least as since the start of March, I have checked every morning with the computer simulation models to offer the playoff probability odds of the Stars making he playoffs.  Back on March 4, it looked like this: Dal 57%, Winn 19%, Pho 18%, Van 15%, Nash 2%.

By March 7th, it had moved slightly to this: Dallas 61%, Pho 34%, Winnipeg 9%, Van 5%, Nash 1%. They were on a roll.  On March 9th, I really enjoyed the numbers: Dallas 72%, Phoenix 25%, Van 8%, Winn 6%, Nashville 1%.  Yes!  They are fine.  I even put Minnesota back in the mix for the 7 seed on March 12th: Minn 83%, Dallas 77%, Phoenix 34%, Winnipeg 3%, Van 2%.

But, then came the Calgary/Winnipeg/Pittsburgh/Philadelphia swerve down, and by March 17th, the numbers started to turn back towards Phoenix: Minnesota 90%, Dallas 64%, Phoenix 40%, Van 3%, Winn 2%, Nash 1%.  By March 21, the computer models spit out some reality I wasn’t liking very much: Minn 94%, Phx 68%, Dallas 35%, Van 2%, Winn 2%.

They got back from the road trip and beat Ottawa, so the morning of March 23 it looked better: Minn 89%, Phx 59%, Dal 51%, Van 2%, but they were still looking up from the 9th spot.

Next game, they beat Winnipeg.  So, March 25th? Minn 92%, Dallas 55%, Phx 50%, Van 2%. – Finally back over the Coyotes, but barely.

But, lose at Chicago a week ago today and Phoenix goes out East and keeps winning.  How are they doing that without Mike Smith?  Why does Dave Tippett want to haunt us every single year?  So, March 28th: Phx 81%, Minn 77%, Dal 37%, Van 4%.  Dallas back down to a distant 9th.

Return home last weekend and spanks Nashville, then the next night go back to St Louis and do it again.  Meanwhile, Minnesota goes into Phoenix and scores a regulation win.  Minnesota places its grip hard on the 7th seed, and Phoenix finally shows some weakness.  Now, Dallas is earning its way in, right?  Let’s check the numbers on Sunday morning, March 30th: Minn 84%, Dallas 63%, Phx 52%.

Now, today.  Minnesota with another big win in Los Angeles.  On the morning of April 1st, Minn 92%, Dallas 60%, Phoenix 48%.

So, let’s review the last month with the help of a 1990’s era graphic:

Just like a roller coaster of your hockey emotions, right?

Now, of course, it does beg the question about whether or not we should be watching this pot, because it likely won’t boil if we watch it this closely, but it shows you how the emotional drain on the teams at the edge of the playoffs can be immense.  Again, St Louis and Chicago don’t experience this, so they can have an uncluttered mind when they reach the playoffs.  Meanwhile, you can clearly see how #7 and #8 seeds can be easy prey, because they exhausted every ounce of energy just to get in to the post-season.  By the time they get in, they collapse in a pile.

But, as anyone reading this already knows, we should be so lucky.

So where, specifically are we this morning?  Well, the idea that Minnesota is going to crash and burn on their road trip that looked so difficult (at Phoenix, at Los Angeles, and at Chicago) is not happening any more than the Phoenix road trip that would begin their demise (at NY Rangers, at Pittsburgh, and at New Jersey).  Good teams don’t cave in on themselves, and the Coyotes and Wild aren’t going to eliminate themselves.

Here is what everyone has left in this final 13-day stretch:

Game # Dallas (83) Phx (84) Minn (89)
75 At Wash    
76 At Car WPG  
77 At TB At LA At Chi
78 At Fla EDM PIT
79 NSH At Clb At Wpg
80 CLB At Nsh BOS
82 At Phx DAL NSH

As you can see, Dallas has the games, and the most road games – by far – but, they also have very few powers or Cup contenders left.

It is going to come down, most likely, to the Stars pulling results from their last Eastern Conference road trip.

And that, has been quite an issue this season.  Everyone plays 16 Eastern Conference games on the road, and through 12, the Stars have a 4-7-1 record.  That is 9 points from 12 games.  Meanwhile, Phoenix is 8-4-3 with 1 road game in the East left (at Columbus) and that gives them 19 points in 15 games.  If the Stars can get 5 or 6 points on this 4 game Eastern trip, they will be ok.

If they can’t, well you know what happens.

93 points should get you in.  But, that means 5-3 in the final 8 (and if 1 of the 5 wins is at Phoenix at the end).  They must have 10 more points, and to feel safe, they likely need to try to get to 95.

This is great theater, but one of these teams is going to be awfully disappointed in 13 days.