With their strange regular season coming to a close, the Dallas Stars need a final push to keep playing in May.
On Thursday night in Tampa, the Stars — needing points to move up in the Central Division standings — will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in a stand-alone single game.
The contest is a rescheduled one from March 1 that was postponed after severe cold weather blanketed Texas in mid-February and created major power outages.
The fifth-place Stars (21-16-12, 54 points) have played well over their last 12 games, securing points in 10 of the matches by turning in an 8-2-2 record and climbing up the standings.
However, good and bad details loom on Dallas’ remaining schedule.
Due to the Stars’ COVID-19 outbreak to start the season — they postponed their first four games in Florida against the Panthers and Lightning — and the winter storm, they hold two games in hand over fourth-place Nashville (27-22-2, 56 points).
That is two more chances to earn points while the Predators are idle. Plus, Dallas has a crucial encounter Saturday in Nashville in the final match between the former Western Conference rivals.
But the bad news is that the remaining seven games on the schedule will all be on the road, where Dallas owns a dismal 8-9-4 record.
And there is more.
Of those contests, four are against clubs that have already clinched a playoff berth — three against the Lightning and one against the Panthers.
After the Stars’ 5-1 loss Tuesday to first-place Carolina in their home finale, defenseman John Klingberg said it all comes down to the road.
“Every game is very important, has been all year,” he said. “Doesn’t matter if we’re on the road or at home, it comes down to our season on the road. It’s huge.”
Having last played the Lightning on March 25, Dallas is 1-3-1 in the season series and has suffered two defeats by shutout — including a 5-0 whitewash in its only visit to Tampa on Feb. 27.
Meanwhile, the Lightning (33-14-2, 68 points) are in their own playoff pursuit — trying to pass the Panthers and Hurricanes to win the division.
They did their part Tuesday in a 7-4 victory in Chicago, but Florida — one point ahead of the Lightning but with two fewer games left — won in Nashville by the identical score as the margins stayed the same among the division’s elite trio.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said he was proud of his team, which used a pair of three-goal periods and killed off six of seven Blackhawks power plays to claim its fourth consecutive postseason appearance.
“You want it to become the norm, and these guys have done that,” said Cooper after his club won to finish 7-0-1 against Chicago. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. To put yourself in the situation to compete for a Stanley Cup, you have to make the playoffs.”
In winning their third straight game, the Lightning grabbed points for the 24th time in their last 25 games against the Blackhawks. They have gone 21-1-3 against them since the start of the 2010-11 campaign.
New defenseman David Savard did not play because of a minor lower-body injury, but Cooper said he expects him in versus Dallas.
–Field Level Media