Stars continue playoff push on road against Panthers

NHL

The folks who made the 2021 NHL schedule gave a difficult task to the Dallas Stars, who end the season with seven straight road games.

So far, it has not gone well for the Stars, who have lost the first two — both by shutouts.

On Monday night, the Stars — who are currently three points out of a playoff spot — are set to visit the second-place Florida Panthers (34-14-5, 73 points).

Overall, the Stars (21-17-13, 55 points) have lost three straight games, including Saturday’s 1-0 overtime heartbreaker to the Nashville Predators, the team they are chasing in the Central Division.

“That’s a tough one,” Stars forward Radek Faksa said. “But we’ve still got five games to go. We still have a good chance to make the playoffs.”

The top three teams in the Central Division — the Carolina Hurricanes, the Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning — have all clinched playoff berths. That leaves just that final spot, and the Stars have one game in hand on Nashville.

However, the Stars have a couple of injury concerns as forward Denis Gurianov (sixth on the team with 27 points) was a late scratch before Saturday’s game due to an upper-body ailment. In addition, Jason Dickinson (ninth on the team with 14 points) missed Saturday’s third period due to a lower-body injury.

Even so, Stars coach Rick Bowness said he was impressed with his team’s hustle on Saturday.

“We played our hearts out,” he said. “We need to score, but, in terms of our effort and the commitment to the team, I’m 100 percent satisfied.”

The Stars, who haven’t scored since a 5-1 loss to Carolina on April 27, are led offensively by their top line, consisting of Joe Pavelski (44 points), Jason Robertson (40 points) and Roope Hintz (38). Those players are their top three scorers.

The goaltending has been solid with Anton Khudobin (2.39 goals-against average) and Jake Oettinger (2.25).

Meanwhile, the Panthers are headed for their first playoffs since 2016. They have three games left in the regular season — all of them at home — and they trail Carolina by two points. But the Hurricanes have two games in hand.

The Panthers are not coasting into the playoffs. Instead, they have won three straight games and are 8-2-1 in their past 11 games.

“These guys are being good pros,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “They are continuing on with good habits and good purpose.”

The heart and soul of the Panthers is captain Aleksander Barkov, who leads Florida with 25 goals, including 17 in his past 22 games.

In Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, Barkov’s line — which also consisted of speedy Anthony Duclair and promising rookie Grigori Denisenko — combined for six points. Duclair had two goals for his first multi-score game of the season.

Panthers forward Sam Bennett, who had two assists on Saturday, is another player to watch. He has 13 points — including five goals — in nine games since Florida acquired him from the Calgary Flames.

“They’re an excellent transition team,” Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said of the Panthers: “They make you pay when you turn it over.”

–Field Level Media

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