NHL On NBCSN: Do not count out the Stars in playoff race
NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars. Red Wings-Stars stream coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
It has been a frustrating year for the Stars to this point. And even though their playoff chances looked to be slipping away from them a few weeks ago, they still find themselves with a fighting chance in the Central Division race.
They enter Monday’s game against the Red Wings in sixth place, three points out of the fourth and final playoff spot. That may seem like a tough position to be in this late in the season, but there are a couple of things working in their favor that could put them in the driver’s seat for that spot. It is probably not the situation the Stars expected to find themselves in at this point in the season, especially after back-to-back deep playoff runs including a the Stanley Cup Final appearance last season, but here we are.
The Stars’ season got off to a rocky start when Tyler Segin and Ben Bishop were sidelined before training camp due to offseason surgeries. They were then the first team to have their schedule delayed due to a COVID outbreak. When they were finally able to return to play, they stormed out with a great start with four straight wins by a combined 19-6 margin.
They looked great. Until they didn’t. They followed that fast start by slumping toward the bottom of the league standings with a 7-12-10 record (that is seven wins 29 games) through the end of March that left them near the bottom of the standings and seven points out of a playoff spot with Nashville, Chicago, and Columbus all sitting between them. They were only four points ahead of last place Detroit.
[RED WINGS-STARS COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]
The one thing the Stars had working in their favor: More games to play than anybody else. And they have taken advantage of it. Since the start of April the Stars have started to resemble more of the team that they should be this season, even as they continue to play without Bishop Alex Radulov, who are done for the season, and Seguin, who’s expected back soon.
They have gone 6-2-2 so far in April, while averaging more than three goals per game playing the lockdown hockey with strong goaltending that helped drive them to the 2020 Cup Final.
It is also a couple of rookies that are helping to drive their turnaround.
Jason Robertson has been incredible and has not only been one of the league’s best rookies, he has been one of the most efficient 5-on-5 players in terms of driving offense. When he is on the ice during even-strength play, the Stars score a lot of goals. His performance may not be enough to close the gap in the Calder Trophy race with Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov, but he has at least put himself in the discussion to be a finalist.
In goal, Jake Oettinger has been white hot as of late and helped give the Stars the strong 1-2 punch in goal (along with Anton Khudobin) that made them so successful a year ago.
[Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]
Combined with strong years from Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz, as well as their strong defense led by Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg, and the Stars have rapidly closed the gap in the playoff race.
As of Monday, they actually have the best fourth best points percentage in the Central (.535) and what is by far the fourth-best goal differential (plus-13). They still have three games in hand on the Nashville team they are chasing (by three points) and two games in hand on the Chicago team they trail by just a single point. Starting on Monday, the Stars play four consecutive games against a Detroit team they are already 3-1-0 against this season and outscored by a 14-7 margin. Nashville and Chicago play each other three more times and should steal points from each other.
Obviously nothing is a guarantee (they still have to play those games, while games in hand are not necessarily wins in hand) but the Stars are probably in a much better position than their overall place in the standings may appear. They have an opportunity here to not only close the gap, but maybe even potentially erase it.
Given where they were in the standings just a couple of weeks ago, and with the injury situation being what it is, that is a pretty impressive turnaround. They need it to continue starting on Monday night against the Red Wings.