Stars brace for late-season playoff push starting with Lightning visit

Stars brace for late-season playoff push starting with Lightning visit

CHICAGO – Rick Bowness wasn’t going to bask in a victory for long.

“You’ve got about two hours to enjoy it,” the Dallas Stars coach said after a 6-4 win against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Sunday. “Then you have to worry about Tuesday.”

The Stars (41-27-4) will play their final 10 regular-season games fighting for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a stretch that starts with a big test at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday (9:30 pm ET; ESPN, TVAS, NHL LIVE). They hold the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference, two points ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights with one game in hand and are one behind the Nashville Predators for the first wild card.

[RELATED: 2021-2022 Wild Card standings]

After a frustrating 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on April 9, when they allowed two goals 10 seconds late in the third period, the Stars needed to defeat the Blackhawks to keep pace in the West. But forward Jamie Benn said they can’t look at the win as an opportunity to reset.

“I think it’s a little late in the year to be having these resets,” said Benn, who had a goal and an assist Sunday. “We should be ready to go for every game. Our lives are on the line and we control our effort and how we play.”

Seven of the Stars’ final 10 games are at home, where they’re 22-10-2. They play the Golden Knights on April 26, the second of a season-ending four-game stretch in Dallas when they also face the Seattle Kraken, Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks, who have all been eliminated from playoff contention.

Forward Joe Pavelskiwho leads the Stars with 72 points (27 goals, 45 assists) this season, said Dallas can’t lean on home-ice advantage.

“I mean, it sounds nice, but we can’t overlook that first one,” said Pavelski, who had a goal and an assist against the Blackhawks. “You’ve got to get off to a good start. So it really is cliche, but we’re focused on that next game and not looking too far ahead, trying to get rest when we can, recover.

“It’s easier to do that at home and playing in front of our fans. That’s a building we really enjoy playing at and it always gives you that little extra boost.”

The Stars are familiar with a fight for the playoffs late in the season. After reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2020, when they lost to the Lightning in six games, they missed the postseason last year, going 2-4-2 in their final eight games (the last seven on the road) to finish four points behind the Predators for the final spot in Central Division. They had an NHL-high 14 overtime / shootout losses and injuries to top players like forwards Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulovand goalie Ben Bishop, didn’t help.

This season the Stars enter the home stretch in better health. They’ve lost four games in overtime / shootouts. They’ve got a good opportunity to make the postseason if they can take advantage of their home-laden finale, but they’ll need more performances like Sunday to get there.

“I think we just have to play like this, like we showed today: all four lines playing well for 60 minutes,” Stars forward Roope Hintz said. “That’s going to be good for us.”


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