x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Smooth skating for smaller teams in NHL this season

Teams such as St Louis Blues and Florida Panthers are into the play-offs.

Jamie Benn, centre, has arrived as an offensive star for the Dallas Stars. Hannah Foslien / AFP
Jamie Benn, centre, has arrived as an offensive star for the Dallas Stars. Hannah Foslien / AFP

There has been no shortage of surprising teams this season.

The St Louis Blues, who have made the play-offs only once since the 2004/05 lockout (and were swept in the first round in 2009), are vying for the overall lead in the NHL standings.

The Florida Panthers, owners of the league's longest play-off drought (they have not skated in the spring since 2000), are leading the Southeast Division and holding down the No 3 seed in the East.

The Ottawa Senators, who bottomed out last season and appeared to be entering a full rebuild, are firmly in a play-off position and pushing Boston Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup-champions, for first place in the Northeast.

And then there are Dallas Stars. Ownership instability had haunted the Stars in recent seasons, but that problem has been solved with the arrival of Tom Gaglardi.

The Stars brought the Stanley Cup to Texas in 1999, but after three successive seasons without making the play-offs they looked like they might fade into oblivion in a non-traditional ice hockey market.

That has not happened, however, not even close. Kari Lehtonen has been a revelation in net. Jamie Benn, all of 22 years old, has already arrived as an offensive star. Loui Eriksson is one of the best two-way forwards in the game. And guiding the effort is the rookie coach Glen Gulutzan, who has the unlikely Stars in first place in the Pacific and ready to return to the post-season for the first time since 2008.

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