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Monday, March 12, 2012

Jamie Benn and Stars Playoff Bound?

If you look back 10 games nobody expected the Dallas Stars to come out of the pack and to take hold of the Pacific Division lead and subsequently be the third seed in the Western Conference. They have won five games in a row and in their last ten games are:  9-0-1. As of Monday March 12, the standings in the Western Conference are as follows:  St. Louis has 97 points in 70 games, Vancouver has 92 points in 69 games, Dallas had 81 points in 69 games (yes, the stupid system of seeding Division leaders gives them the third seed), Detroit has 91 points in 69 games, Nashville has 87 points in 68 games, Chicago has 82 points in 70 games, Phoenix has 78 points in 69 games, Calgary has 76 points in 69 games (in possession of the 8th and final playoff spot), Colorado has 76 points in 70 games, Los Angeles has 76 points in 69 games, San Jose has 75 points in 67 games, Anaheim has 68 points in 69 games, Minnesota has 68 points in 69 games, Edmonton has 59 points in 68 games, and Columbus has 51 points in 69 games.

Last year, on March 12 (the same date as today) the Stars had 82 points and were in sole possession of 4th place in the Western Conference. Everybody thought that they were going to be in the playoffs but they somehow managed to blow it. Starting March 13th they lost eight of nine games, then won four in a row, and had their last game in Minnesota to determine whether they would be in the playoffs or the Blackhawks. Well, Dallas lost the game and the Blackhawks were given a ticket to the First Round to meet the Canucks. Why had the Stars lost grip of the playoff spot that they had worked for most of the year? Well, I blame it on trading Neal to Pittsburgh in exchange for Goligoski and Niskanen, and also on the coaching because the Stars were doing well up until March 13th. Trading Neal was ridiculous and adding Niskanen on top was hard to believe.

Will History Repeat Itself or Will the Jamie Benn Factor Prevent It?

If the Stars hang on and make the playoffs this year I credit the accomplishment largely to Jamie Benn who continues to improve and is a force in the NHL. He is a Victoria boy who really improved at every level from the VIJHL to the BCHL to the WHL and now in the NHL. He was drafted in the 5th Round by Dallas and that goes to show you that some star players can come out of any round. He is a star, at 22 years old, and was at the All-Star game this year. In his rookie year with the Stars, 2009-2010, he had 41 points in 82 games, in the 2010-2011 season he improved tremendously and had 56 points in just 69 games, and this year he already has 55 points in 58 games (missing 11 games due to injury). He is the second highest scorer on the Stars next to Loui Eriksson who has 62 points and who has played 11 more games. Both Ryder and Ribeiro have 53 points and Ryder leads the team in goals with 30.

Benn provides the other players with “energy” because he is determined and hard-working. If the Stars hang on to their playoff spot they owe a lot to Benn. To be honest, ten games ago I would not have placed Dallas in the playoffs because they were going up and down and up and down, but now that they have put together this streak it looks like they might have the inspiration to hang on. The Stars have 13 games left and five of those games are going to be the deciding factor since they meet the Sharks twice, the Flames twice, and the Coyotes once. Other teams that they will play include the Blues, Canucks, Predators, Oilers, Jets, Blackhawks and the Wild (who ruined their playoffs hopes last year in the final regular season game). Seven of Dallas’ thirteen games are on the road but they have actually played almost as well on the road this year, just a one game worse than their home record. They were tougher at home last year.

By the way, the Stars have not made the playoffs since the 2007-2008 season in which they made it to the Western Conference Finals and lost to the Red Wings, who went on to beat the Penguins and win the Stanley Cup. The Stars were down 3-0 in games to the Wings and battled back and took the Wings to a seventh game.

The Stars are a “streaky” team and they could do some damage in the playoffs if they get or stay hot and are supported by good enough goaltending.

TJ Stanley