Simulating the Season: Streaking Stars in hunt for home-ice advantage, Blues get last-minute win

Jamie Benn's late game-winning goal handed the Stars their fourth-consecutive victory and pushed the Stars two points back of second spot in the Central Division in our latest simulated action.
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NHL 20

NHL 20

Welcome to Simulating The Season. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the NHL has put the 2019-20 campaign on hold without a clear timeline for a return to action. As such, with the help of EA Sports’ NHL 20, we’re attempting to figure out what the rest of the season would have looked like had it not been postponed. Keep in mind, this is not a perfect science and the simulation does not take into account real world circumstances, including current injuries.

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When the NHL campaign came to a halt as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the Dallas Stars were mired in a dreadful slump. Losers of six consecutive games, the Stars' already-low-scoring offense had suddenly become inept, shutout in two of its past four games and scoring fewer than two goals in each of those contests. But then, with the start of our Simulating the Season series, came the sudden rebirth of the Dallas attack, and suddenly the Stars find themselves searching for home-ice advantage in the opening round of the post-season.

In Tuesday's faux-game, the Stars had another bit of late-game heroics, this time off the stick of Jamie Benn, who ripped one past Robin Lehner in the final four minutes of the contest to put the Stars in the win column for a fourth-straight game with a 5-4 defeat of the Vegas Golden Knights. But the win wasn't just big because it sees Dallas' offense back on track or lifted them to their fourth-straight victory. Rather, it's important because now, with nine games remaining in their season, the Stars find themselves within two points of the second-place Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division standings. Squeaking past the Avalanche by the time the post-season rolls around would give Dallas the chance to host the opening-round series, and the Stars will take any advantage they can get with the post-season on the horizon.

Dallas wasn't the only Central team making noise Tuesday, though. In other action, the St. Louis Blues squeaked past the Philadelphia Flyers on the strength of a penalty shot tally by Ryan O'Reilly, while the Winnipeg Jets got some breathing room in the top wild-card spot with a win over the Florida Panthers. The Jets, once in position to move into a divisional spot, no longer seem likely to do that thanks to Dallas' recent form, but the win puts Winnipeg that much closer to earning a post-season berth.

Here's a look at Tuesday's simulated action:

STANDINGS

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Toronto Maple Leafs – 7
New Jersey Devils – 5

Another big win for the Leafs, who’ve shown some real muscle with four straight wins. But the Leafs should be a bit more concerned about the goaltending situation after Frederik Andersen surrendered four goals in a frame and forced coach Sheldon Keefe to use Jack Campbell for the final 40 minutes. It was a great night for Alexander Kerfoot, who had points on the final three goals of the contest, including the game-winner with five minutes remaining. 

Three Stars
1. Alexander Kerfoot, TOR (2-1–3)
2. Zach Hyman, TOR (1-1–2)
3. Kasperi Kapanen, TOR (1-1–2)

Chicago Blackhawks – 4
Minnesota Wild – 2

The Blackhawks are getting settled into their role as spoiler, and they played it to perfection when they headed into Minnesota to play the Wild. Chicago's two-goal first frame was powered by Brandon Saad's pair and goaltender Malcolm Subban did work from there. He stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced and stifled the Wild through the final 20 minutes.

Three Stars
1. Brandon Saad, CHI (2-0–2)
2. Malcolm Subban, CHI (29 saves)
3. Olli Maata, CHI (0-2–2)

New York Islanders – 3
Calgary Flames – 2 

Jordan Eberle is no stranger to turning in a big game – he has legendary status from his time with Canadian world junior team – and his two goals in quick succession in the third was his latest bit of heroics. The two tallies gave the Islanders the win despite a great 34-save effort by David Rittich in the Flames net.

Three Stars
1. Jordan Eberle, NYI (2-0–2)
2. David Rittich, CGY (32 saves)
3. Mathew Barzal, NYI (0-2–2)

San Jose Sharks – 5
Colorado Avalanche – 2

If the Avalanche aren't going to take top spot in the Central Division by season's end, the name of the game has to be staving off the hard-charging Dallas Stars and ensuring home-ice advantage in the first round. Losing to the Sharks isn't going to help the Avalanche in that pursuit. Granted, winning games at this point in the year doesn't do San Jose much good, either.

Three Stars
1. Joe Thornton, SJS (2-0–2)
2. Martin Jones, SJS (27 saves)
3. Tomas Hertl, SJS (0-2–2)

Carolina Hurricanes – 2
Buffalo Sabres – 0

Sabres netminder Linus Ullmark had a good showing despite allowing two early goals, but the team in front of him failed to put anything past Petr Mrazek at the other end of the ice. Teuvo Teravainen scored just 11 seconds in and Sebastian Aho followed it up with a goal on the next shot before Carolina slammed the door shut the rest of the way.

Three Stars
1. Petr Mrazek, CAR (29 saves)
2. Teuvo Teravainen, CAR (1-0–1)
3. Sebastian Aho, CAR (1-0–1)

Dallas Stars – 5
Vegas Golden Knights – 4

All right. This Stars offense is starting to get a bit ridiculous. While the real-world group struggled to score with any consistency, Dallas' digital attack has been exceptional. After getting late-game heroics from Stephen Johns last time out, Jamie Benn steps up this time with the late game-winning goal. That was all made possible, though, by Joe Pavelski's two-goal second period, which helped the Stars stage a comeback after trailing 3-1 after 20 minutes.

Three Stars
1. Jamie Benn, DAL (2-1–3)
2. Alexander Radulov, DAL (0-3–3)
3. Joe Pavelski, DAL (2-0–2)

St. Louis Blues – 2
Philadelphia Flyers – 1

After getting hauled down by Matt Niskanen with 40 seconds remaining, Ryan O'Reilly cashed in on a pivotal penalty shot to end the Flyers' run of dominance. The game didn’t lack action, with both Carter Hart and Jordan Binnington stopping at least 35 shots each, but the defending champions had the advantage in the end.

Three Stars
1. Carter Hart, PHI (39 saves)
2. Jordan Binnington, STL (35 saves)
3. Ryan O’Reilly, STL (1-0–1)

Montreal Canadiens – 5
Los Angeles Kings – 1

Somehow, the even the lopsided score makes this one look closer than it actually was. After a four-goal opening frame, the Canadiens took their foot off the gas and tied the Kings with a goal apiece over the final 40 minutes, but the shot totals were ugly. Montreal fired 35 shots at the Los Angeles goal – Jonathan Quick was pulled after allowing four goals on 13 shots – while Carey Price was asked to turn aside just 20 shots.

Three Stars
1. Joel Armia (1-1–2)
2. Nick Suzuki (1-1–2)
3. Phillip Danault (1-0–1)

Winnipeg Jets – 3
Florida Panthers – 2

In the end, it was Nikolaj Ehlers who was the difference-maker for the Jets with a goal 90 seconds into the final frame, but the game-changers in this one were Mathieu Perreault and Connor Hellebuyck. The Winnipeg netminder snuffed out much of the Florida offense, allowing only two goals against on 28 shots, and Perreault factored in on every single Jets tally. Despite its thin 'D' corps, Winnipeg is making its case for a wild-card playoff entry.

Three Stars
1. Mathieu Perreault, WPG (2-1–3)
2. Brett Connolly, FLA (2-0–2)
3. Connor Hellebuyck, WPG (26 saves)

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