For those of you who go to bed at a decent hour, let me be the one to share the good news: Phoenix dropped a point last night with a shootout loss to Dallas Eakins and his Oilers.
This means that, despite a stupefying loss in Carolina, the Stars' magic number has dropped to 9 points.
With the Coyote loss, the Stars' ROW (regulation or overtime wins) advantage over the Coyotes holds at 4 games. Phoenix has just four games left in their season, so it's become impossible for them to take over the tiebreaker. If Phoenix is going to get in, they'll have to do it the hard way- by earning as many points as they can and hoping the Stars flounder over their last six. With two games still in hand and down by just a point, the Stars are still firmly in control of their own destiny.
If you missed our last update, the Stars "magic number" refers to the amount of points either won by the Stars or lost by Phoenix needed for Dallas to clinch a playoff spot. With the maximum amount of points Phoenix can earn slipping to 94 and the ROW tiebreaker out of play, this means that the Stars (who currently sit at 85 points) need just 9 more to earn at least the eighth seed.
The next two games for Dallas serve as the Stars' "games in hand": Phoenix is off until 4/8, and both teams will play four games between that date and the end of the season. This makes this weekend's back-to-back without question the most critical juncture of this year's campaign. If the Stars can take both ends, it will push the magic number down to just five while Phoenix is forced to sit and watch idly. Even taking three of four possible points in the next two would put pressure on the Coyotes, leaving them down a game with four to play for both teams (including their head-to-head matchup that rounds out the season for both clubs). The Stars will play four games in five days beginning tonight, which makes earning points in the first two even more crucial.
The loss at Carolina seemed to some a harbinger of the annual early-April disappointment. It was frustrating at its best points and maddening at its worst, with nothing but anger in between. But while you were sleeping, the Stars were given a gift- by a team coached by a man named Dallas, no less. Maybe the hockey gods are on our side after all.