Who the heck are these Dallas Stars?
Do you remember just a short two weeks ago when the towel was thrown in on their season and as the April 3 NHL trade deadline passed, Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and captain Brenden Morrow had new homes? The Stars had lost four of five, head coach Glen Gulutzan's seat was getting hotter than it already was and while the team was only three points out of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, eyes were beginning to drift toward the NHL Draft.
Despite those losses on the roster, it's been nothing but wins since. The Stars enter tonight's game at United Center against the Chicago Blackhawks winners of five in a row, which has allowed them to stay in the playoff hunt (they're two points out of eighth) and revived the playoff hopes of the Dallas faithful. Even their chances of playing beyond April 27 have improved from 21.7-percent to 37.2, according to Sports Club Stats, and that's just since Friday.
The streak even has the venerable Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News talking about Disney movies and fairytales.
So what's been the biggest change? Keeping it simple.
From Stars Inside Edge:
“We’re obviously a much different team now. We were playing a little more risky game back then, and I think we’ve really tightened that up. We’re playing more direct and harder defensively,” said Stars forward Eric Nystrom.
“We made some moves and brought in some youth and a little bit of energy. I think our game is much more consistent now. These guys are really buying into the system. They are not as high risk, they are just driving the net and playing simple. The older guys we have here have been preaching that the whole year and we haven’t been able to put it together. Right now, we are finding a way and it feels great.”
There's almost a little Ewing Theory going on, too. Exit some big-name stars and enter the unheralded and unknown. Over this five game streak Vernon Fiddler has 9 points; Eric Nystrom's chipped in 3 goals; and goaltender Richard Bachman has won three games, including starting two days in a row at Nashville, then home to San Jose. He's also posted a 1.08 goals-against average and .965 save-percentage in those three wins.
Then there's young Alex Chiasson. He was recalled after the Jagr deal and has done nothing but score. Really. Chiasson has scored six times in his first six NHL games. He's already tied for fourth on the team in goals. That pace isn't sustainable, but it's certainly helped replace the 24 goals that were dealt away.
And the Stars have done it all the while they've been outshot 127-154 and the power play has scored only twice in 19 opportunities.
Outside of Nashville, during this streak Dallas has defeated teams ahead of them in the standings: Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose twice. When they face the Blackhawks on Monday night, they'll look to exercise the demons from March 16, when Chicago blasted the Stars 8-1.
With their poor start to the season, Dallas has put themselves into this tough position, but if you're a Stars fan, dreaming of the playoffs is a better way to spend late April than looking up YouTube videos of random draft prospects.
The biggest challenge between the Stars and getting into the playoffs will be their remaining schedule. It doesn't get any easier after Monday as they will face teams already in playoff position or fighting at the bottom of the eight in the West: Vancouver, LA, St. Louis, San Jose, Columbus, Detroit.
Two years ago the Stars missed out on the playoffs on the final day when they needed only a win over Minnesota. Like 2011, the opportunity is there to slide in to the playoffs; but will the Stars step up and take it this time?
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy