The Stars can do two things on Monday night in Vancouver: boost their standing in the Western Conference, and crush the Canucks’ distant playoff hopes.
The Stars enter Vancouver in the first Wild Card position previously held by the Predators. Dallas and Nashville each have 91 points, but the Stars have played one fewer game, giving them a better point percentage.
Dallas entered the day four points up on ninth-place Vegas and seven points up on 10th-place Vancouver.
“It’s not like they’re eight points behind us,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said of the Canucks. “They’re right there. We wake up this morning, we’re in the seventh spot, and we want to keep it. If we take care of business, teams can’t catch us if we keep winning. We have to keep winning to hold that spot. It’s going to be up to us.”
If 97 points is a secure cutoff to qualify for the playoffs, the Stars would need to go just 3-4-0 in their final seven games to reach that number. Nashville would have to go 3-3-0, Vegas 5-1-0 and Los Angeles 3-1-1.
The Canucks? 6-0-1.
So a regulation loss on Monday night to the Stars should greatly dim their already thin playoff hopes.
“In any playoff series, the fourth game to win is always the hardest,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. “These guys are going to bring a solid effort. They need these points, too. It should be a good game.”
Peterson out, Kiviranta in: While the Stars shuffled their lines during Monday morning’s skate, the only insertion in the lineup was Joel Kiviranta going in instead of Jacob Peterson.
“[Kiviranta] hasn’t played much, we need some energy tonight,” Bowness said. “Sometimes, the game gets a little rich for Petey at this time of the year, the intensity and the speed. There’s times he can handle it, there’s other times he’s still learning a lot about this league.
“Now, you’re down to the last seven games, everything cranks up. This team tonight, they’re looking at this as their season. This is going to be a very intense hockey game, very physical game. Petey just needs a little bit more experience at handling these situations.”
Kiviranta has played just three of the last 17 games. Peterson played each of the last five games, but averaged 8:04 of ice time and logged 54 total seconds on the power play.
As the Stars carry extra forwards, and as they navigate a busy April schedule, different players have come in and out of the Dallas lineup. Denis Gurianov, Alexander Radulov, Marian Studenic and Kiviranta have all been healthy scratches this month.
Peterson’s last healthy scratch came on March 24 in Carolina. Peterson has 12 goals at 5 on 5 this season, which is fifth on the Stars behind Roope Hintz (22), Jason Robertson (19), Tyler Seguin (16) and Joe Pavelski (14).
Shuffled lines: Bowness re-assembled the line of Benn, Seguin and Studenic on Monday morning, a trio that played three games together earlier this month.
They combined for two goals and one assist on April 5 against the Islanders.
“Marian’s got great speed, he’s not afraid to hold on to that puck and take it deep into their zone,” Benn said. “Try to start a cycle or hit Seggy coming late. We’re going to try to hold on to pucks as long as we can, take advantage of the opportunities that we get. Just be a positive line for this group.”
Bowness also broke up the Stars’ checking line of Michael Raffl, Radek Faksa and Luke Glendening. Raffl and Faksa had Gurianov on their right wing. Glendening centered the fourth line with Kiviranta and Radulov on his wings.
“I can always put Glenny back there, but he’s going to take a lot of faceoffs tonight,” Bowness said. “Their power play, [J.T.] Miller takes a lot of faceoffs on that left side. We’re going to need Glenny to be taking a lot of faceoffs and just give us better balance defensively.”
Karlström called up: The Stars recalled Fredrik Karlström on Sunday to serve as insurance against any injuries that may arise during the team’s three-game trip through Canada. He will not play on Monday in Vancouver.
“He’s really improved from the first day of camp to where he is now,” Bowness said. “He’s skating better. I watched him out there this morning, he’s moving a lot quicker. Last couple of months, he’s been very good down there. He’s the guy we call up.”
Karlström, a third-round pick in 2016, is in his first season of North American hockey. He has 29 points in 65 AHL games this season, which includes five in his last seven games.
For him, he said he didn’t become fully comfortable with the smaller North American ice until last month.
“If you say FC Barcelona, if they were to play on a football pitch that was 5-10 meters less wide, it would be pretty different for them,” Karlström said. “That’s one reason. The game is played a little bit of a different way. It’s a lot of back and forth, it goes really quick. One thing with that [Texas coach Neil Graham] always talks about with me is the wall play around the boards. That’s one thing that I’ve really managed now, I think.”
Karlström has never played in an NHL game, but has felt more at-ease with the smaller dimensions.
“Get really good pace in my game and kind of know where on the ice I should be at in which situations,” Karlström said. “That’s when I had a lot of chances. I think my speed has come in a better way now, my skating.”
In the preseason, Karlström wore No. 41 for the Stars. But trade deadline acquisition Scott Wedgewood now wears No. 41, so Karlström is now wearing No. 51.
Briefly: Jake Oettinger will start in goal for the Stars.
Stars projected lineup Monday night in Vancouver, 9:30 p.m.
Jason Robertson – Roope Hintz – Joe Pavelski
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Marian Studenic
Michael Raffl – Radek Faksa – Denis Gurianov
Joel Kiviranta – Luke Glendening – Alexander Radulov
Ryan Suter – Miro Heiskanen
Esa Lindell – John Klingberg
Joel Hanley – Jani Hakanpää
Scratches: Jacob Peterson, Fredrik Karlström, Thomas Harley, Andrej Sekera, Vladislav Namestnikov (lower-body).
Long-term injured reserve: Braden Holtby (lower-body), Ben Bishop (knee).