No one would call the Stars’ 3-2 shootout win over the Red Wings on Monday night pretty.
But, they don’t have to be. The Stars simply need points, no matter how they come. In their last seven games (5-0-2) they’ve been pretty good at getting them.
They were an inch away from a heartbreaking loss, and falling to four points behind Nashville in the playoff race, if not for an Anton Khudobin save on Evgeny Svechnikov in the third round of the shootout. If he had scored, game over.
ANTON KHUDOBIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/LymCyNglpz
— DailyDallasHockey (@DallasStarsDDH) April 20, 2021
Instead, the Stars tread water with Nashville, gain on Chicago and stay in the drivers seat of the playoff race.
Dallas had as rough of a start that’s possible in the 2021 NHL. They lost Tyler Seguin for the bulk of the season, and goalie Ben Bishop for all of it. They had a Covid outbreak that delayed the start of the season.
Since then, they’ve had to play catch up, and after Monday’s win they are a three points out of the playoffs with a three games in hand. They trail the Predators, who went on a remarkable run of their own in the middle of the season, and move to three points ahead of the struggling Blackhawks.
Chicago has the toughest schedule to close out the season, and they had their struggles at the end of March. Nashville had lost two in a row before defeating them Monday night; they’ve beaten Chicago all six times they’ve met this season.
When Jason Robertson is on the ice at 5v5, the Stars score 4.05 goals per 60. That is third in the NHL among forwards with 500+ 5v5 mins.
— Matthew DeFranks (@MDeFranks) April 18, 2021
The Stars, though, have a real opportunity in front of them. They have three more games with the Red Wings this week, then they have a bunch of games against the teams ahead of them. They have one more with Nashville, and two with Chicago at the end of the year.
Games in hand aren’t automatic wins, but if you want to call those three games the ones with Detroit this week, the Stars have the opportunity to steal a playoff spot.
If anyone would have said that following a start where they won just seven contests in 29 games, the Stars almost certainly would have taken being in this position now, even after a Stanley Cup run and high expectations.
Monday’s shootout win was littered with good signs, too; rookie Jason Robertson, who has been one of the most effective players in the league at five on five all season, scored their second goal and another in the shootout. Roope Hintz, who has continued to play well, scored the first goal.
Khudobin, who hasn’t always played with rookie Jake Oettinger having a strong campaign, made the final shootout save to seal it against the Red Wings.
One shootout win isn’t everything, either, but it is only the third time the Stars have won after it was tied after regulation this season, improving to 3-12.
They also netted their first power play goal in four games, ending a drought of over 160 minutes, when Hintz found the back of the net early in the game. They had gone 0-for-10 on the man advantage during that stretch.
It’s small steps for a team that started behind everyone else, but each small step has a big impact. Just like each and every point makes all the difference in the world, and no one asks how pretty they are.
Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.