The Edmonton Oilers are one of the few teams in the NHL more banged-up than the Stars.
And at the American Airlines Center on Monday night, the home team, as it has regularly this season, took advantage of that fact. The teams only produced a total of 54 shots, but Dallas picked up a crucial 4-1 win.
In his first season as head coach, Jim Montgomery’s team has endured a few ugly losses, but none in the AAC. All of the team’s home defeats have come at the hands of teams that are currently in the playoffs or hovering around the eight seed.
For just the second time this season, Dallas has won three games in a row. And the most recent win, like so many others this season, wasn’t pretty.
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A week ago, Dallas seemed to be in danger of sliding out of the playoff picture. Last Tuesday, in just his second game behind the bench in Edmonton, coach Ken Hitchcock beat his former team, 1-0 in overtime.
This game was Hitchcock’s first game back in Dallas since he presided over one of the worst regular-season collapses in the history of the NHL last spring.
And unlike the first meeting between these teams, the coach was without Hart Trophy contender Connor McDavid. In total, Hitchock only had 11 forwards and seven defensemen at his disposal.
Since he took over in Edmonton, the previously struggling Oilers had picked up four wins in their past six games. They’d also won three straight.
After that loss in Edmonton, Montgomery’s team rebounded for two crucial wins.
The Stars don’t have a clean bill of health, either. Defensemen Marc Methot (knee), Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches) and John Klingberg (hand) remain out.
Unfortunately for Montgomery, the return for all three players remains somewhat unclear.
Yet, less-experienced defensemen such as Gavin Bayreuther, Joel Hanley and Taylor Fedun were able to once again fill in admirably alongside veterans such as Esa Lindell, Roman Polak and Miro Heiskanen.
Yes, technically Heiskanen is a rookie, but he’s averaging the second-most ice time on the team (just shy of 23 minutes per game).
And the 19-year-old has played in all 27 of his team’s games.
Anton Khudobin, as he has been all season, was strong in net. By night’s end the goalie had stopped 28 of 29 shots.
Forward Jason Dickinson provided a 1-0 lead with a first-period goal. A few minutes into the third period, Brett Ritchie netted his first goal of the season to seal the victory.
A little while later, the much-maligned power play even converted an opportunity as wide-open Jamie Benn tipped in his 14th goal of the season off a nice feed from Bayreuther.
Finally, Lindell launched a short-handed goal into an empty net from below the Stars’ own goal line.
Despite Edmonton’s recent turnaround under Hitchcock, the Stars are a more well-rounded team than the Oilers.
Which, considering Dallas’ upcoming schedule, made Tuesday night’s win all that more essential.
First, it ensured that the Stars continue to occupy the third playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Central Division standings.
Second, it continues this group’s mini-wave of momentum going into a tough stretch of the schedule.
When the Stars host the Sharks on Friday it will kick off a six-game swing against five Western Conference opponents. Only one of those teams does not currently occupy a playoff spot.