10. 10 points. Any combination of 10 points gained by the Stars or lost by Phoenix, and your Dallas Stars are playoff bound for the first time since 2008. Phoenix can only earn a total of 95 points, so if the Stars reach 95 while retaining the ROW tiebreaker (which they lead 34-30 as of now), it's game over for Phoenix. Even though the Stars' magic number to ensure ROW doesn't come into play is technically 11, for this analysis we're going to treat 10 points as the goal. For those that may not understand how exactly that number shakes out, here's a rundown of some of the major situations that could vault the Stars into at least the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
First, each team's schedule should be noted- the Stars have two games "in hand," meaning that over the remainder of the season, they'll play seven games to Phoenix's five. Here's a look at each team's remaining schedule:
Tonight, 4/3: @CAR /
4/5: @TBL /
4/6: @FLA /
4/8: vs. NSH /
4/9: vs. CBJ /
4/11: vs. STL /
4/4: vs. EDM /
4/8: @CBJ /
4/10: @NSH /
4/12: vs. SJS /
4/13: vs. DAL
When you look at the two side by side, a few things stand out. For one, neither slate looks particularly intimidating- one could envision the Stars running into some trouble in Tampa or at home versus possible first round opponent St. Louis, but the other five games are certainly very winnable (however, keep in mind that the Columbus game will begin with the Stars in a 1-0 hole). Secondly, the Stars play two back-to-backs to Phoenix's one, but the second half of Phoenix's comes on the heels of a matchup with a physical Sharks team, against a Stars club that had the previous night off. The Stars have struggled mightily in recent years in the second game of a back-to-back, but managed to get a critical win in St. Louis in the most recent example. This is a team that seems to be trending in the right direction while Phoenix flounders without starter Mike Smith.
With that being said, here's a look at some possible scenarios that would lock down a spot for the Stars, in order of how much the Stars would need to count on someone other than themselves:
1) The Stars win 5 of their remaining 7 games. This is the simplest scenario, and one that Lindy Ruff is sure to be preaching to his club- take care of your business, and nothing any other team does will matter. If the Stars take five games in regulation between now and the end of the year, they're in. It's that simple. No one relies on anyone but the guys in Victory Green.
2) If the Stars don't manage to hit the magic number of five regulation wins, getting in is going to require a little help from elsewhere. This is where both the games in hand and each team's remaining schedule come into play. The Stars will play four games between now and April 8, while the Coyotes will play just two. If the Stars win all four in regulation and Phoenix loses just one of their two in regulation, the Stars are in. If the Stars win three of four and Phoenix loses both in regulation, the Stars are in. The Stars certainly have the ability to take care of their end- Carolina, Florida, and Nashville are games that a team serious about ending the drought should put away. However, the Coyotes also have a very winnable game with Edmonton coming to Glendale, and another at Columbus. My guess would be that this option has a pretty slim chance of happening- even as atrocious as Phoenix was last night in Los Angeles, a confidence booster against an awful Edmonton team could turn them around. For these two scenarios, the Stars have still put themselves in a good position by earning 6 or eight points, but they'll need a little assistance.
3) In what many would consider the worst case scenario, let's assume that Stars lose more than half of their remaining games in regulation. If they only manage two or three wins out of their last seven, they would have to rely on Phoenix tanking and losing at least two or three of their remaining games to reach that magic number of five combined Dallas wins/Phoenix losses. You can divide up the five games needed any way you want, but if the Stars start to slide, the slope of reliance will only get steeper.
Obviously, the cases above are only three of too many to detail here- with loser's points, things can get complicated quickly. All of the above scenarios assume wins or losses in regulation, and if the Stars or Coyotes start to force overtime in any number of games, they're all thrown out the window. For example, if the Stars and Hurricanes go to extra time tonight and the Stars earn just a point, they'll need at least four more regulation wins and an overtime game to do it by themselves, and so on. The main thing to keep in mind is that every time Dallas gains a point or Phoenix loses one, even just a single point, the magic number will decrease.
It's close, Stars fans. 10 points. For a team that has shown flashes of the brilliance we witnessed earlier this season and has won five of its last six, it's a number that seems highly attainable for a fanbase that has been deprived of late April hockey for far too long.
Taking care of business starts tonight in Carolina. Let's go get a win.