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With only three game days remaining, Central Division title still attainable for Dallas
Four teams still fighting for the division titles in the West. Dallas will play for a chance to meet a Wild Card team rather than the actual Wild team in the First Round of Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I'll start by putting things in a retrospect a bit. This was the Dallas Stars lineup ahead of the fateful Game 7 against the Calgary Flames some 11 months ago:
Credit to HockeyViz.com
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What has changed since then? Well to put it in just one word and not saying – almost everything? The expectations. But even those didn't occur from one day to the other, but were infested onto the team continually. Ahead of the training camp last September, the idea of Dallas Stars easily crossing the 100-point mark would be seen as pretty bold.
At that point it was hard to imagine the resurgent season Jamie Benn would have. Or the seamless insertion of youngsters like Wyatt Johnston, Ty Dellandrea, Nils Lundk…, ehm *clears throat* Thomas Harley to the lineup, who were very important contributors.
Not to mention Jason Robertson crushing pretty much all the attainable franchise scoring records, Miro Heiskanen doubling his career-high in point totals and elevating his role in the team from untouchable to almost god-like while Jake Oettinger stood on his head pretty much the whole season and having played 60+ games.
Oh, did I mention Roope Hintz and his confirmed ascent to a superstar status and Joe Pavelski still hanging in that zone, too? All that — and then some — played a huge factor in Dallas being a true contender this season. With the retrospective view from the beginning, we can consider the 2022-23 (regular!) season as a successful one, regardless of whether they finish first or second in Central.
Now, the Stars still have two games remaining (both against the Blues) and could very likely finish in that 107-108 points area, just a couple of points from surpassing that magnificent regular season team from 2015-16 that had Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen share 50 wins amongst them.
So, let's start with stating the obvious.
Since the Western Conference is out of reach now, to win (at least) the Central Division, Dallas needs to max out their point total from the remaining two games while hoping Colorado will lose at least one point from their residual slate of games against Winnipeg and in Nashville. The implications and what to expect of each team Stars could face in the playoffs are nicely summed up by David Castillo here.
The Stars were really close to catching up with the Avalanche points-wise last night, but that Edmonton game winning goal came just a few minutes too late. That's water under the bridge now. Colorado plays Winnipeg at home next, who won't be enticed to risk literally anything, as it's their last regular season game. They will play David Rittich in goal and probably rest all the key players. That's probably an easy win for the Avs.
The only chance where I see Avalanche dropping a point is the final game, where I believe they'd want to rest players, too – and that is against the pesky Predators, in Bridgestone Arena on Friday. Nashville was a feel-good story ever since they decided to sell some key players and credit, where credit is due: they hung around as long as they possibly could. They don’t possess much of anything really right now, except for their otherworldly goalie and tremendous will of their young players to make a name for themselves. Sometimes, that matters.
If the Stars manage to get all four points against the sneakily dangerous Blues team — which is not a guarantee at all, it might set up a nice must-watch game on Friday night for all the Stars fans, where they will cheer for … the Nashville Predators?
Yeah, that's right.
Anyways, with Winnipeg clinching the 8th spot last night, here's how the full playoff picture in the Western Conference looks with three game days remaining:
As was the narrative throughout the whole season, almost no lead is safe and that applies to the race for the division titles as well. Dallas can still overtake Colorado and Edmonton can still win the Pacific Division. A scintillating couple of games ahead of us.
The best part about it is: only after that, the real fun begins.
So, brace yourselves everybody. With still so much to figure out, Stanley Cup playoffs start on Monday already.