Tuesday, March 20, 2012

10 to Go

The last month has been a wonderful ride for the Dallas Stars and their loyalists who kept the faith. The Stars went on a run where they had 10 victories in 11 games and 21 of a possible 22 points. That run shot them up the standings to #3 in the Western Conference as Pacific Division Leader, but only by an eyelash.

There are 10 games to go. As we stand this morning, the Stars still sit in that #3 spot. But, by the slimmest of margins. So much so, that they sit 1 point out of 10th place in the West, 2 points out of 11th. This is essentially a dead heat. A photo finish. A cause to grab a fresh bottle of Pepto Bismol.

This will all be over by Saturday night, April 7th. For on the night before Easter, it will all be sorted. All the games will be played and only 8 of these 11 teams will have invitations to the playoffs. And in 3 cities, a lot of hard work will have been accomplished without any reward.

Nowhere is that more clear than in Dallas. Where the playoffs have been just a rumor since a wonderful spring run in 2008. And, where the Stars mounted a furious rally late in the regular season in 2010-11, only to be just the 2nd team in history to bag 95 points and still miss the playoffs. They had a "win and you are in" scenario last spring in St Paul, Minnesota, only to go down in defeat on the final day of the season. It was most gutting.

And here they sit again. 10 games to go. Simply match the total of those around you in those final 10 games, and they take that massive step forward into the post-season. With new ownership and seemingly a fan base that has been dormant but starting to stir, who knows the benefits of a berth in the 2nd season?

It can only be called, "Squeaky Bum Time", right?

There is a good chance that 98%-99% of the readers of this story have never heard that term. And for good reason. Only those that follow soccer over in England would know that about a decade ago, maybe the most famous manager in world soccer, Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United was playing his typical mind games in the media with those clubs (Arsenal, in particular) that dared to challenge his mighty United in the Premiership race.

His exact quote from March, 2003, was: ""They [Arsenal] have a replay against Chelsea and if they win it they would face a semi-final three days before playing us in the league. But then they did say they were going to win the Treble, didn't they? It's squeaky bum time and we've got the experience now to cope.""

That is a lot of information that might not register, so let's just focus on the phrase, "squeaky bum time", and assure the audience that he is not referencing flatulence. Rather, it is that nervous energy that has one shifting in their chairs. The constant repositioning of the anatomy that results (when on a metal chair, I assume) in the occasional involuntary squeak. Thus, squeaky bum time.

And a fair application to the local hockey team, that has exceeded many expectations to put themselves in a wonderful position. The other day, upon having confidence shaken by consecutive losses to Winnipeg and Chicago in rather overwhelming fashion, I was assured by a media mind that "they couldn't ask to be in a better spot. If you were looking down at your competition with 10 games to play, wouldn't everyone take that?"

Yes, of course.

But, that doesn't make me feel any better about the run-in. 10 Games that look most daunting in every respect.

It starts with 3 more at home: Tonight with Phoenix and old friend Dave Tippett, a team that gives the Stars fits. Then, Thursday with a Vancouver team the Stars have shocked twice and Saturday with Calgary, a team that sits 2 points back in 11th.

Next week, it is a tortuous road trip with 4 games in six nights, in 4 arena that make you earn your points with capacity crowds demanding the best from their sides: Calgary again, Edmonton, Vancouver, and finally at San Jose. Those last 2 games are back-to-backs, the final such situation that has the Stars in a 1-10-2 trend so far in the second night of such a scenario.

And then the final 3 games on the week of Easter. Home to San Jose, Away to Nashville, and home again to finish the season to St Louis, the only team with 100 points in the Western Conference to date, and their coach, Ken Hitchcock.

Find, if you will, the easy game in that 10. There isn't one. At Edmonton is the only game with a team not in the hunt, and we all know how crazy things happen up there. Squeak, squeak.

Below, please find the chart for how many points it takes to qualify for the playoffs since the lockout.

Year#1 Seed#8 Seed#9 Seed100 Pt Teams
05-06Det 114Col 95Van 924
06-07Det 113Cal 96Col 957
07-08Det 115Nas 91Van 883
08-09SJ 117Ana 91Min 894
09-10SJ 113Col 95Cal 907
10-11Van 117Chi 97Dal 953

HTML Tables

Numbers above are from a study found here.

So, it looks like 97 gets you in, while 95 usually does, and less than 95 will be tough. Whether that applies to this year remains to be seen, but as the Stars have 83 points with 10 to play, we can figure that they must win 6 games to get to 95 and 7 of the 10 to get to 97 points.

That means starting your streak tonight against Phoenix and placing the "must win" heading on all 5 of your remaining home games. Figuring you get 8 points out of 10 in those 5 home games, now you can narrow it to getting 5 or 6 more points out of 10 from those 5 hostile road games. Get 13 points and you are at 96. I think that will be the magic number.

Can it be done? Sure. But, I think most of the league is expecting Dallas to be one of the 3 teams that misses the cut. And why not? There is little track record for this squad, and the doubters will look at resumes.

They will need Kari Lehtonen to lead the way, a healthy and annoyed Sheldon Souray in the back, and Jamie Benn pulling a large load of the goal scoring. They will need pesky play from everyone wearing a jersey and a furious demeanor all 60 minutes. They can not afford to tip-toe into any of these games, especially tonight.

With every mis-step, doubt will creep in and the pack will catch-up. The nerves will be tested and the bums might squeak on their chairs.

It is cliche to say the playoffs start now, but they do. In fact, if the Stars don't win 6 or 7 of the next 10, the playoffs won't happen at all.

The stakes are high. But, this is why you played the first 72. Put yourself in a position late in the season to make a run. Well, they have done that. Now comes the tough part. Closing the deal.

Squeak much?

No comments: