Shaking off a mid-season slump, the Dallas Stars are spending the regular season’s waning nights battling for the top seed in the Central Division and Western Conference.
Dallas recovered nicely to win seven and lose twice in overtime during a 12-game span that saw the Stars add 16 of a possible 24 points. Their 99 points ties the Stars with St. Louis atop the conference and division – just four ahead of the Blackhawks – as each of the three teams heads into their final six regular season games.
The post season will certainly move through each of these teams.
What makes the Stars appear so dangerous for a run at Sir Stanley’s chalice is their performance in spite of losing explosive scorer Tyler Seguin (33 goals, 73 points) to an injury vs. Tampa Bay on March 17 that will keep him off the ice until the playoffs. They have won three of four games in that span, defeating the Islanders, Blackhawks and Sharks while losing at Phoenix.
Masterton Award candidate and team captain Jamie Benn, the defending NHL scoring king and Art Ross Trophy winner, ranks second (83 points) behind Chicago’s Patrick Kane (94 points).
Winger Mattias Janmark and defensemen (rookie) Stephen Johns, Patrik Nemeth and John Klingberg have stepped up their games, and forwards Cody Eakin and Val Nichushkin have improved as well.
Janmark, a rookie whom GM Jim Nill acquired late last season for Erik Cole, was ticketed for a return to his native Sweden before impressing coaches in training camp. He later earned a spot at left win on Jason Spezza’s line, and contributed two goals in the 4-2 victory on March 26 at San Jose. “Me and (Janmark) have great chemistry,” said Spezza. “His skating is what separates him from other players, and we are able to play a lot of give and go.”
Spezza has contributed 29 goals and 57 points, Klingberg has 10 goals and 54 points, and Sharp has also been a force with 18 goals and 50 points.
The roster’s depth has enabled the Stars to maintain a winning trend despite the losses of recently acquired defenseman Kris Russell and veteran forward Patrick Sharp.
“I welcome all of the tough decisions (regarding which players will pick up the slack in the wake of injuries),” said coach Lindy Ruff. “I welcome that Johns is playing so well, that some of our forwards are playing so well. I love having tough decisions to make. Seriously, it’s a good problem to have. You always want the player who is in to make it tough on you. That’s what you tell them to do, and our players have really been doing that.”
The Stars, who frequently put rivals on back on their (skate) heels with a frenetic skating game, have added some grit, particularly from recently recalled Johns, who was acquired in the Sharp trade last summer. Dallas appreciates the defenseman from Wampum, Pennsylvania so much that it signed Johns to an extension recently.
Dallas also has a formidable tandem between the pipes in holdover Kari Lehtonen (22-10-2, two shutouts and a 2.83 goals against average) and offseason acquisition Antti Niemi (23-12-7, three shutouts, 2.74 goals against average).