It's been a slow burn, but the Dallas Stars are finally combusting right before our eyes.
Dallas' ascension to the top of the NHL standings was much swifter than anyone could've imagined. Buoyed by the best start in franchise history, the Stars essentially locked up their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the end of December.
But it's fallen apart since. The downside to such a rapid rise is that you get everyone's attention. They learn your tendencies and adjust, and you have to adjust with them to remain threatening. The Stars didn't do that quickly enough (Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin haven't been themselves in almost two months), and the Blackhawks, Blues, Ducks and Kings all caught up to them in the Western Conference. On Tuesday, Dallas left more points on the table with an overtime loss in Montreal.
Sure, Dallas could've survived even that. But now John Klingberg is out for an unspecified period of time and coach Lindy Ruff is guesstimating that Jason Demers' injury in Montreal will keep him out for the rest of the season. Suddenly their weakest link (their blue line) is showing cracks as their goalies plod along and their stars struggle to snap their slumps.
Stars fans should be grateful for the tremendous first half of the season. The final nine games of their schedule features two games against Chicago and matchups with the Blues, Kings, Lightning, Islanders, Sharks and Predators. It's a gauntlet of a finale. Pick any of the past five years at this time (with the Stars on the playoff bubble) and the season would be over tonight.
Dallas built themselves a cushion. But it's hard to ignore how hard they've landed on it, and whether they'll have enough left to weather a first round victory in the playoffs.
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3 things we learned
1. The Blue Jackets are a thorn in the Red Wings' side
Oh, how Detroit needed a win on Tuesday. The Penguins lost, giving them an excellent chance to solidify their standing in the Wild Card race. And with the Flyers and Hurricanes going a combined 11-7-2 over the last 10 games, they couldn't afford to waste away points against Columbus.
But they did. Cam Atkinson scored twice and Joonas Korpisalo survived a furious third period rally by the Red Wings with 18 saves to preserve the win. Columbus has a habit of this: they've gone 9-2-2 against Detroit dating back to February of 2013.
I'm told by Rangers fans that Girardi does this at least once every game, which must be infuriating.
3. Shut up, one-goal games are actually thrilling
At least when a goalie duel is taking place. Ben Bishop and Jonas Gustavsson combined for 75 shots against on Tuesday, and only one of them (a sweet combo goal from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in overtime) went in. I don't care what you think. That was an awesome game. If you disagree, come find me on Twitter dot com and we'll send angry subtweets about it.
Remember when the Ottawa Senators tied the game with 0.1 seconds left last week? Something similar happened again, only this time they were the victims: