Going into their home-and-home series, the Dallas Stars had a chance to essentially bury the San Jose Sharks. Instead, their bitter division rivals shoveled two huge regulation losses on top of them, including today’s soul-crushing 5-2 decision.
(In fact, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan didn’t say anything to the team after the loss because emotions were too high.)
Two of the standout moments came in the third period where San Jose was just a little bit better than Dallas. Jamie Benn received a partial breakaway and made a nice backhand move but Antti Niemi got his stick down to prevent a heart-stopper when it was 3-2. Just moments later, Joe Thornton scored his 17th goal of the season to make it 4-2 and essentially lock it down.
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The “clutch” criticisms of Thornton continue to wither away as he’s coming up big for San Jose in later months; he has 18 points in February and generated 15 in March. (He’s quietly putting together another nice season as his 75 points ties him for 14th overall in the NHL.)
What’s next for Dallas, San Jose
Now, it’s true that much like the Colorado Avalanche, the Stars aren’t technically done. They’re now simply reduced to last week in the NFL-type scenarios where they root for different teams to win and lose at different times while needing to squeeze every point they can out of two remaining games.
By a similar token, the Sharks aren’t assured of a spot. Here’s what the West situation looks like at the moment, with a crucial Columbus Blue Jackets-Phoenix Coyotes still to be determined:
3. Los Angeles – 93 points, 34 regulation/OT wins, two games left
7. San Jose – 92 points, 33 regulation/OT wins, two games left
8. Phoenix – 91, 33 regulation/OT wins, three games left (one tonight)
9. Dallas – 89, 35 regulation/OT wins, two games left
10. Colorado – 88, 32 regulation/OT wins, two games left
Depending upon how the Coyotes fare, the Sharks’ home-and-home series against the Los Angeles Kings might just decide the Pacific Division title. Meanwhile, Dallas essentially must hope that one of the three teams ahead of them finishes with as few points as possible (to keep it simple).
The Stars face the Predators in Nashville and host the St. Louis Blues in their last two games, so those are tough draws from both the quality of opponent and the fact that they cannot influence other bubble teams. Dallas had its chance to do that and watched both games go up in smoke – in regulation.