The Dallas Stars' poor play against Phoenix this season didn't keep them from securing a playoff spot. The Coyotes' success, meanwhile, wasn't enough to help get them back to the postseason.
With a trip to the playoffs now in hand, the slumping Stars look to end their struggles against the Coyotes when they begin a home-and-home series on Thursday night at Jobing.com Arena.
|The Dallas Stars are heading to the playoffs despite going 2-7-2 in March. They will look to pick up some momentum tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
The Stars (43-29-7) clinched a postseason spot by getting one point in a 3-2 shootout loss to Anaheim on Sunday in what could be a first-round preview. Dallas and Colorado are tied with 93 points - five behind fourth-place Anaheim in the Western Conference - but the Stars hold the tiebreaker over the Avalanche.
"That's the first priority right there," Stars rookie defenseman Matt Niskanen said of getting into the playoffs. "It's something we wanted to do as soon as possible."
Dallas has three games left to gain some momentum after going 2-7-2 last month. That included a 2-1 loss to Phoenix (37-36-6) on March 5, dropping the Stars to 2-4-0 against the Coyotes this season.
"The best way to get our confidence back is winning," Dallas goaltender Marty Turco said. "We've all just been lacking a little bit. We need to keep battling to win games. When you get in the playoffs, that's what it is all about."
Phoenix, meanwhile, will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season despite its success against Dallas. The Coyotes were eliminated from postseason contention with a 3-1 loss to San Jose on Sunday.
"We had a chance this year, and we dropped the ball completely this time," said Shane Doan, the Coyotes' captain and leading scorer with 77 points. "It's frustrating. As a player who hasn't been in the playoffs for a while, I want to go back. We had opportunities to make the playoffs, and we couldn't."
The Coyotes, though, have shown marked improvement after going 31-46-5 in 2006-07. Phoenix needs just two more points to reach 82 for the first time since 2001-02, when it had 95 en route to its last playoff berth.
"We've had a nice turnaround this season with our young players," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "A week ago, we were right in the thick of things to make the playoff race. Nobody really anticipated that or expected it."
Phoenix also had a tough March, going 4-9-1. The Coyotes scored two goals or less 10 times during that span, but have found the back of the net five times against the Stars in three of the teams' meetings.
Doan has four goals and six assists in five games versus Dallas this season. He also has four goals and six assists in his last six contests overall.
The Stars, meanwhile, have struggled to solve Phoenix's Ilya Bryzgalov, who has gone 2-1-0 with a 1.58 goals-against average in five games against Dallas this season. Brenden Morrow, who tops the Stars with 31 goals, has scored only once in his last seven games versus the Coyotes.
The teams will meet again on Friday in Dallas.