The Stars may be 12 or so games back, but we all remember who generally beats who in the playoffs. As long as the Stars make the playoffs (which they likely will) I have more than enough confidence the Sharks will again swim home with fin between legs over a failed attempt to buy a Stanley Cup.
The right motivation can make anything easier, and since their season began with a terrible slump, the Dallas Stars are living proof. Since dumping disgraced agitator Sean Avery, the Stars have seen a surge on the ice, a resurgence to the style that made the team so dangerous last season.
The Columbus Blue Jackets learned this lesson all too well on Saturday night.
Dallas, battling to steal points from a playoff spot adversary in the Jackets, seized control and pace early. The Stars controlled every aspect of the first period, especially after taking a 3-0 early lead which caused rookie goalie sensation, Steve Mason, of the Blue Jackets to be yanked.
James Neal played the hero for the night for Dallas, and set the tone early with his 14th goal of the season at 5:58. Matt Niskanen and Mike Modano both assisted. Neal has been a great addition to the Stars this season, even as a rookie.
At 8:22 Loui Eriksson netted his 24th goal of the season unassisted to put the Stars up 2-0, and left Mason shaking his head. Former Anaheim Duck Brian Sutherby added salt to Columbus' wound at 10:43 on a wrist shot goal from Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards.
At 17:32 the Jackets finally knocked the Stars off their dominant streak with a backhand goal by Kristian Huselius. Assists came from Jan Hejda and Marc Methot.
Columbus began the second period with a bang, scoring on the power play at 1:38. Fedor Tyutin scored it on a slap shot from Kristian Huselius and Rick Nash. With the Stars clinging to a one goal lead, the battle on the ice turned into something reminisent of a Civil War battle. Neither side gave up ground without a fight.
The Stars yet again looked for leadership to seize control, and James Neal yet again stepped up to the challenge. Neal's wrist shot beat Dubielewicz- who had replaced Mason after the Stars third goal- at 13:29 with assists from Mike Modano and Chris Conner.
The two goal lead didn't prove to be comfortable enough for Dallas. The Stars kept up pressure on the Columbus back-up goaltender and defense, and at 18:58, Steve Ott scored with helpers from Jere Lehtinen and Mike Ribeiro.
Down 5-2, the Blue Jackets looked to be about to bounce back when Jared Boll scored at 4:34 of the third period, but the Stars ensured a win with smothering play and added pressure. The stifling and focused play by Dallas yielded two more goals.
Stars defenseman Trevor Daley scored at 7:10 on a slap shot. Toby Petersen and Darryl Sydor were credited with assists. Andrew Hutchinson scored his first goal of the season at 18:02, inevitably more than securing the Stars victory. Niklas Grossman and James Neal were credited with assists on the final goal.
With the win Dallas climbs to 7th in the Western Conference, the first time the Stars have been truly in a playoff picture all season. The good news ends there I'm afraid. Dallas is in this spot tied with three other teams having 53 points. Dallas only finds itself where it is due to having played less games.
The main focus for Dallas is winning key games, and closing the gap on Anaheim while being sure to stay above the Coyotes. With the right motivation and hard work, Dallas could find itself second in the division come the end of the season.
Dallas will now face the Calgary Flames, one of the most dangerous teams in the Northwest Division on Feb. 3rd at the American Airlines Center.