NHL Weekend Takeaways: Dallas Stars make unexpected playoff push

The Dallas Stars poured on the shots against the Detroit Red Wings in their 2-1 OT win, firing 52 shots at Jonathan Bernier.

They’re playing without franchise faces; they’ve been whacked by COVID-19 and the conference they’re defending doesn’t even technically exist right now. Honestly, would anyone have blamed the Dallas Stars if they took a page out of the Cowboys’ book and punted on this year?

Instead of leaning on excuses, though, the 2020 Western Conference champs are emptying the tank while making an unlikely playoff push. Dallas was not going to leave Detroit without two points on Saturday, even if it took a little extra time for captain Jamie Benn to score the overtime winner in a 2-1 victory. The only reason the game went past three periods was because Red Wings goalie Jonathan Bernier made 50 saves, including on all 41 shots he saw through two frames.

Benn made sure things ended on a happy note for the Stars, though, then had a little more fun during the post-game press conference when Bishop assumed a pseudonym and tried his hand at playing reporter:

Bishop has time for this kind of Zoom-foolery because, as it turns out, he won’t play at all this season thanks to a knee injury. Alexander Radulov, who had 12 points in the 11 contests he suited up for in 2021, is also completely done with a lower-body ailment. There’s still hope Seguin could return from off-season hip surgery, but — at best — he’ll see a handful of games. Stud Finn Roope Hintz has been in and out of the lineup and Dallas won Saturday without the services offence-driving defenceman John Klingberg. All this after the start of the Stars season was pushed more than a week due to a COVID outbreak. The squad was also forced to re-schedule home games in February thanks to frigid temperatures and power outages in Texas.

But coach Rick Bowness’s boys won’t back down.

The win on Saturday was Dallas’s sixth in its past seven attempts, as it exploited a soft spot in their schedule to pile up points in two games versus Columbus and four against Detroit. The Stars — after treading water for much of the year — are now two points back of the Nashville Predators for the final playoff berth in the Central Division. Dallas’s points percentage is .553 compared to .551 for the Preds. Nashville’s goal-differential on the year is minus-5, while the Stars — at plus-14 — are one of two clubs (along with the Rangers) to be on the positive side of the ledger while not currently holding a playoff spot.

Benn — whose production has been nowhere near commensurate with his $9.5-million cap hit the past couple years — has 12 points in his past 17 outings. Joe Pavelski, 36, leads the squad with 43 points; 21-year-old Jason Robertson has the highest points-per-game (0.88) of any rookie in the league and the aforementioned Hintz might be the most impressive of everyone, battling through injuries to produce 38 points in 34 outings.

The road ahead only gets tougher for the Stars, as they host Carolina on Monday and Tuesday for their final two home games of the year. Dallas will finish with seven straight on the road, including a mammoth tilt with Nashville on Saturday. Given how difficult the path just to get here has been, though, Big D deserves big-time props for remaining in this race.

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Other Takeaways

Taylor Hall is 3-3-6 in eight games as a Bruin, Anthony Mantha has scored in four of the six contests he’s played as a Washington Capital, but the move of the deadline so far might be the Florida Panthers snatching Sam Bennett from Calgary. Bennett, the fourth-overall pick in 2014, picked up an assist during Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, as the Canes and Cats continue to battle it out (along with Tampa Bay) for top place in the Central Division. Bennett now has three goals and the same number of helpers for six points in five outings with the Panthers. A year ago, Florida more or less gave away a second-line centre when it traded Vincent Trocheck to the Hurricanes. Maybe getting Bennett from the Flames could prove to be a make-good on that?

• Speaking of Calgary-drafted players who are thriving in new places, Adam Fox is turning in a sophomore season for the ages on Broadway. We certainly can’t torch the Flames for trading Fox to Carolina three years ago, nor can we blame the Canes for shipping him to New York as they, too, knew the Harvard alum was not interested in signing with them at the end of his NCAA career. Fox, a Long Island boy, wanted to play for the Rangers and, man, are the Blueshirts ever the beneficiary of a good bounce there. The 23-year-old, right-shot defenceman picked up an assist during Friday night’s 4-1 win over the Flyers and three more in a 6-3 victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. Fox’s 41 apples on the year are six more than the next closest blue-liner in the league. If the Rangers can ever get the version of Jacob Trouba (currently injured) they thought they were trading for two years ago, the right side of this D corps is going to be set for a long time.

• With possible apologies to the aforementioned Panthers, the Minnesota Wild may have sewn up ‘Surprise Team of the Season.’ Minny has locked in a playoff spot after defeating the Kings on Friday and downing the Sharks 24 hours later. The Wild are presently on a seven-game winning streak, marking the third time this year the club has strung together runs of at least five consecutive victories. They have yet to lose three consecutive outings and are the fourth-best team in the NHL by points percentage (.691). Kirill Kaprizov bagged three goals on the weekend and has found the net in five straight contests.

Toronto Raptors fans: Remember when Masai Ujiri took over the team eight years ago and was going to do a teardown, then it turned out Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were really good, so the Raptors just became good instead of rebuilding? Something similar has happened in Minnesota.

Weekend Warrior

He hasn’t played a game since Feb. 9 and, as it turns out, that contest will go down as the last one of Andrew Shaw’s NHL career. Shaw — who’s battled concussions — announced he was hanging ‘em up on Monday morning after heeding the advice of team doctors. Talk about squeezing the most out of your average-sized body. The scrappy Shaw turned himself from a fifth-round selection in 2011 to a key member of the support staff on Chicago teams that won the Cup in 2013 and ’15. Great call, Andrew. Take a breath, then get started on the rest of your life.

The Week Ahead

Nathan MacKinnon will be trying to match the longest point streak of the season when the Colorado Avalanche visit the playoff-bubble-dwelling St. Louis Blues on Monday. MacKinnon has eight goals and 24 points during his 13-game run and if he makes it to 14, he’ll match… Connor McDavid? …Patrick Kane? Nope, Carolina D-man Dougie Hamilton.

• Toronto and Montreal are slated to face off on Wednesday. Despite the Habs’ recent woes, a first-round matchup between these clubs in a few weeks looks very likely. The clubs still have four more regular-season games to go against each other, so hockey’s oldest rivals could be very, very sick of each other in about a month. (Doesn’t that sound fun?

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