Have the Dallas Stars hit a wall? If so, it would be a bad time for that to happen. The Stars sit on the outside looking in for the NHL playoffs with four games left to play. Two of those games are against the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The other two are against the Chicago Blackhawks, but those games will only matter if the Stars get some wins and a little bit of help.
Tampa Bay still has something to play for in the Central Division. The Bolts have two games in hand on Florida and trail Carolina by four points for the top seed in the division. While the likely Panthers vs. Lightning first-round matchup means that the travel will be very light for each team, seeding could very much matter down the line.
The Bolts around a -160 favorite per the odds at Bookmaker Sportsbook with a total of 5.5 for this Wednesday night matchup on the Gulf Coast.
It is hard to fathom how the Stars have any energy left. Their season started later than everybody else because of a COVID outbreak and has been very condensed as a result. Dallas has not had more than one day off prior to a game since having a break from February 14-21 because of weather-related postponements. The Stars played their 13th game of the season on February 22. This will be their 53rd game of the season. That is 40 games in 72 days.
To add insult to injury with that long stretch of games, the Stars have 10 overtime losses and four overtime wins in that stretch, so those are 14 extra periods of 3-on-3 hockey. That is a lot of stress, a lot of important games, a lot of adversity. Fortunately, the Stars got a boost last game against Florida with the return of Tyler Seguin from a long-term injury.
Seguin took 22 shifts and scored his first goal of the season to tie the game at 4-4 in the third period. Aleksandr Barkov scored the game-winner in the extra period for the Panthers, but every point is monumental for the Stars right now. Unfortunately for them, Nashville plays Columbus on Wednesday night and the Blue Jackets are a dumpster fire full of burning tires right now, leaving the margin for error non-existent for Dallas.
We’ll have to see if the Stars go back to veteran backstop Anton Khudobin or roll with youngster Jake Oettinger in this game. Khudobin was pulled on Monday after allowing four goals on 15 shots. It is the second time in his last fve games that he has been pulled. He has a 2.50 GAA with a .906 SV% on the season, but is not playing well of late.
Oettinger, a 22-year-old rookie, has a 2.23 GAA with a .918 SV%. He stopped 27 of 28 shots to help Dallas get to OT in the last game. He should get the call, but we’ll see.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay is 5-1 against Dallas this season and has outscored the Stars by a combined total of 19-8 in those games. The most recent matchup was a 4-3 Dallas win back on March 25. Tampa Bay was in a little bit of a look-ahead spot with a game against Carolina on deck.
The Lightning have won five of six and have two days off prior to this game, so the spot is certainly better for them, along with being the better team. Their only loss in their last six games is a 1-0 shootout loss to Detroit in which they outshot the Red Wings 33-15, but couldn’t get a goal past Thomas Greiss.
The goaltending situation is up in the air for Tampa Bay on Wednesday. Starter Andrei Vasilevskiy was given the weekend off, which gave Christopher Gibson his second appearance of the season last time out against Detroit. It could be Curtis McElhinney in net. If it is, he has struggled this season in 11 starts with a 2.91 GAA and a .879 SV%. It does seem likely, though, that Vasilevskiy returns to the lineup. He’s got a solid 2.10 GAA with a .929 SV% and is very much in the discussion for the Vezina Trophy.
Vasilevskiy’s last outing was a 3-0 shutout against these same Stars. Tampa Bay is +23 in goal differential at 5-v-5, while Dallas is only +7. The Stars have scored the fifth-fewest 5-v-5 goals this season. A lot of their games are lower-scoring, but Tampa Bay has only allowed one more 5-v-5 goal than Dallas, so they’re more than content playing low-scoring games.
When things do break down, Tampa Bay, due in large part to Vasilevskiy, has the best high-danger save percentage in the NHL at 5-v-5. Dallas is sixth in that department, which is pretty surprising with the overall numbers of their netminders.
Stars vs. Lightning Free Pick
Dallas has only scored eight goals in six games against the Lightning this season. Tampa Bay is still engaged in the season, so their defensive awareness and efforts will not wane like what we’ve seen from some teams out there. Dallas likes to play ugly, low-scoring games with a style that clogs up the neutral zone. Tampa Bay likes to get offense from transition and has had some success doing that against the Stars, but this should be a game where Dallas does everything possible to protect Oettinger.
As a result, under 5.5 is going to be the pick here.
Pick: Under 5.5