DALLAS -- It's funny how fast an NHL season can change.
The Stars have struggled with injuries, with COVID, with a winter weather storm that postponed four games -- and it all seemed to be wearing on them. They scrambled to string together two wins for much of the season, and their 12 losses in overtime or shootout were a nagging reminder of just how close they have been to something much better.
So when they did put together a nice 4-0-2 stretch capped by a 5-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday, it was sort of surprising to look up at the standings Saturday night and see they are in the thick of the playoff race. Because Dallas has three games in hand on Nashville and two games in hand on Chicago, it is actually ahead of those two teams in points percentage right now.
The Stars sit at 17-14-12 (.535), Nashville is 24-21-1 (.533) and Chicago is 21-19-5 (.522). Dallas is three points behind the Predators with three games in hand, meaning they have the potential to move ahead in the standings if they win their three extra games. The two teams have one head-to-head game remaining on May 1, so that's also an intriguing discussion point for fans on both sides.
But if the lads in Victory Green want any of these recent wins to matter, they have to put them aside and continue to focus on the job at hand. Yes, they have put themselves back in the conversation, but that's a three-team chatroom in which only one squad will make the postseason.
Video: Pavelski: Stars 'have to keep climbing' after victory
"We are not looking at (points) percentage right now," forward Joe Pavelski said after the win. "I don't think until that final game and we have a playoff spot that anyone is going to feel good about themselves. We have to keep climbing and putting points in and moving up."
Still, this was a big deal.
Not only did the Stars get the points from these two games, they got a big boost in confidence too. Denis Gurianov has found his stride on a line with Jamie Benn and Jason Dickinson in large part because Benn is back leading the team after a move to center. Pavelski, Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz continue to collect points with astounding regularity. Dallas still is one of the best teams in the league getting offense from defensemen. And goalie Jake Oettinger and Anton Khudobin look like they can definitely handle the pressure in net now that Ben Bishop has been shut down for the year with his knee injury.
That's a lot to digest, but it tastes pretty good right now.
"It's obviously good to see a couple of lines scoring, which you need. The puck is going in the net, which is nice to see," said Stars coach Rick Bowness. "But the most important thing is that we had to get these two wins and keep pushing north in the standings and put a little pressure on the teams ahead of us."
Video: Seven different players earn two points in Stars' win
Just as they did on Thursday, the Stars got behind to Columbus. This time, Vladislav Gavrikov drove the net and the Stars' fourth line lost coverage -- giving the Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead six minutes in. While that created a tinge of pressure, the Stars once again stayed with their plan and eventually found an eruption of offense when they needed it.
Benn made a simple hard drive to the net on the forecheck, and a John Klingberg shot bounced off of Joonas Korpisalo and went straight to Ben, who deftly manipulated the puck in for his ninth goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1 in the first period. That calmed down the arena for the first intermission.
Then, 10 minutes into the second period, Gurianov converted a Benn pass for a one-timer and a 2-1 lead. Pavelski followed three minutes later with a spinning backhand shot for his 18th goal of the season. And then Klingberg had a pass deflect in 20 second later for a 4-1 lead.
It was both fortunate and earned, and it was a fantastic feeling for the players and the fans. While the Stars have had their share of false starts and hiccups this season, the ability to put together two convincing wins against the struggling Blue Jackets was huge.
Esa Lindell added his fifth goal of the season off a sweet pass from Hintz later in the second period for a 5-1 lead. Oettinger stopped 21 of 22 shots to take his second consecutive win over Columbus and push his record this season against the Blue Jackets to 5-0-1.
Video: Bowness on Stars inching closer to playoff spot
Bowness said getting the team a cushion when it has struggled in one-goal games is key.
"It takes stress off of them," Bowness said. "When you are in a lot of one-goal games, which we have been in all year, it puts a lot of stress on your goaltender. It puts a lot of stress on your defensive core. It puts a lot of stress on your forwards to make sure they are playing the right way in front of the defense and the goalie. So, to get a little bit of a cushion over the last couple of games, is nice. But, again, the most important thing we have to do now is get ready for Detroit."
Ah yes, the Red Wings await. Dallas plays its next four games against Detroit -- two at American Airlines Center Monday and Tuesday, and two in Detroit. While the Red Wings are last in the Central at 16-24-6, they are 3-1-0 in their past four games and present a huge challenge.
"It's a good feeling," Bowness said of the nine goals in the past two games. "It's nice to see the puck go in, but the most important thing is those two points we got tonight and the two points we got the other night, and now we can focus on Detroit."
Because the Stars know that things can change pretty quickly in the NHL, especially this season.
vs. Red Wings; Monday 6:30 p.m. CT
American Airlines Center
TV: Bally Sports Southwest Plus, NBCSN
Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.