Stars Head To Columbus
With three games remaining in the 2006-2007 regular season, the Dallas Stars' bid for the Pacific Division title is no longer solely in their hands. The Dallas Stars currently stand sixth in the West, while San Jose is fifth, and both clubs must now rely on a misstep by the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks in order to have a shot at the Pacific crown. Even with Monday's disappointing loss to St. Louis, Coach Dave Tippett knows his team is still in the running. "All we can do is win the games we have to give ourselves a chance," said Tippett. "We have Anaheim for one game, and Anaheim has San Jose for one game. So the three teams in our division are still pushing hard. We have to play well to win our games and that will be our focus."
Four points ahead of Dallas and San Jose, Anaheim plays both division rivals in their final three games, ending with a trip to Columbus. San Jose plays out their season against playoff seeds Calgary and Vancouver, while the Stars will play games against Columbus and Chicago on the home stretch.
In regards to the team's energetic, but ultimately unsuccessful, effort against St. Louis, Tippett admitted that the weekend's victories played a role in Monday's loss.
"I think there was a fatigue factor playing the third game in four days," remarked Tippett, "and obviously there was a bit of an emotional letdown after the two big games on the weekend. We had some chances and didn't finish and I don't think we executed as well as we could have. I think that was a bit of fatigue that caught up with us."
Dallas' recent high-tempo games are a good indication that the players are reaching a heightened playoff mentality, and defenseman Darryl Sydor thinks the playoffs can't begin soon enough.
"The guys are very anxious to get the playoffs underway," said Sydor. "Right now, we have to worry about our own game, defensively, offensively and all our tactical stuff. No one knows who we are playing so we can't prepare for any of that yet." Sydor is one of the Stars who might benefit from some rest before the playoffs begin, as he sat out Monday night's game due to a hand injury he sustained on March 24 at Phoenix. Jere Lehtinen and Trevor Daley also missed Monday's contest, due to lower and upper body strains, respectively.
The recent subtractions to the defensive lineup have brought about more focus on the club's midseason acquisitions on the blue line, Mattias Norstrom and Nolan Baumgartner. Norstrom tallied an assist against St. Louis and Baumgartner's role has continued to increase as the Stars cash in on their defensive insurance policy.
"The coaching staff has outstanding methods to keep us sharp for when these things happen," said Baumgartner. "When guys go down, other guys are ready to step in."
Often paired with Jon Klemm, Baumgartner has managed to remain error-free as he steps up for a head coach used to juggling the lineup.
"Baumer' has been very good," said Tippett. "We put him in a position were he is playing his off side. He hasn't played it a lot in his career, but he's battling hard, has got himself a couple of points and is doing fine."
With regards to Sydor and other players nursing bumps and bruises, Tippett will take the cautious route as the team nears the playoffs. "We are certainly not to put anybody in the lineup that would affect anything possibly going into the playoffs," said Tippett. "I don't know if we are being any more cautious than we normally are. We are not going to put a player in a situation were he can't do the things he is supposed to do or put him at risk for a long-term injury."
Sydor is back on the practice ice and plans to be back in the lineup for the season's end, but is taking his recovery day by day.
"I'm just taking some steps and handling some pucks, so we will see," said Sydor. "The last three games are all important and the team is doing well, but obviously the playoffs are more important."
The Stars will continue to fine-tune various facets of their game in a Wednesday practice in Frisco before traveling to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets in the final road game of the regular season.