The last time the Dallas Stars lost consecutive games, their playoff chances took a major hit. There's quite a bit more breathing room should it happen again.
Even so, they'll try to avoid it Thursday night against the visiting Nashville Predators with hopes of ending the 2015 portion of the schedule atop the entire NHL.
Those back-to-back losses came March 30 and April 3, and a four-game winning streak to end the season wasn't nearly enough to sneak into the postseason. They must not have liked the feeling because they've since gone 31-8-3 with an NHL-best win total, never even linking losses of any kind, though that could happen after Tuesday's 6-3 defeat in Columbus.
"For some reason we think we can come in against these weaker teams and outscore them, but that's not how it works in this league," captain Jamie Benn told the team's official website after extending his point streak to six games. "You've got to play good team defense."
It was a reminder Dallas (27-8-3) remains a team that can occasionally get torched in its own zone. The Stars have allowed at least six goals four times, which is the most in the league and all have ended in losses of at least three goals.
"It was everything," coach Lindy Ruff said. "Our team defense was probably the worst on the year. We started off not defending, we had pockets of good defending. It was a team loss. Everybody was in on it."
Kari Lehtonen allowed three goals on 14 shots in the first period and was replaced by Antti Niemi to start the second. Lehtonen hasn't made it beyond a period in two of his last three starts, so Niemi figures to face Nashville. He took the loss against the Blue Jackets but has been the better option with a 1.53 goals-against average and .946 save percentage on a 3-1-1 span. He's posted shutouts in his last two games against the Predators, but those came with San Jose.
Prior to Tuesday's defensive letdown, Dallas had outscored opponents 21-7 during a 4-0-1 span, so there's no real cause for concern.
Patrick Sharp continued to come on offensively, scoring for a second straight game to extend his point streak to six games with four goals and five assists. He's been limited to two assists in his last nine regular-season games against Nashville. Colton Sceviour also tallied for the third time in four games after managing a goal in his first 31 contests.
The Predators and Stars have split 10 games over the past two seasons with Dallas holding a 28-27 scoring edge, though the Stars are 4-1-0 at home.
Nashville (18-12-7) is coming off Tuesday's 4-3 overtime loss in St. Louis but left upbeat, having overcome a 3-1 deficit in the final four minutes of regulation against the Western Conference's No. 2 team. The Predators have followed a three-game skid with 3.60 goals per game over a 3-1-1 span.
"I think we were just pressing," center Mike Fisher told the team's official website. "We felt good about our game and we were getting pucks and getting chances. We felt like it was just a matter of time that we were going to get our break and we did. ... We ended up with those last two goals, which were key."
Carter Hutton faced the Blues, so Pekka Rinne figures to return. Rinne hasn't won on the road since Nov. 5, going 0-5-2 with a 3.30 GAA and .880 save percentage since. He's won seven of his last 10 against Dallas with two shutouts.