The playoff spot is clinched and the winning streak is snapped, but the Minnesota Stars season isn't over. With two games to go in the year, the Stars sit in sixth - but just three points, a single win, separates the team from third-place Puerto Rico, Saturday night's opponent. And the third and fourth spots are important; those teams get to host a quarterfinal matchup in the playoffs, a one-game shootout for a berth in the league semifinals.
This is not to say that the schedule favors the Stars. Both of their final two games are on the road, with this week's game in Puerto Rico, where the Stars have never won, and next week's game in San Antonio, where the league leaders await. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico gets two home games, the second against last-place Atlanta, and fourth-place Carolina has a game in hand.
It'll take some doing, then, for Minnesota to move up in the standings. And they also have suspensions to worry about; six players, listed below, are a yellow card away from having to serve out a one-match suspension:
- Justin Davis, defender
- Neil Hlavaty, midfield
- Brian Kallman, defender
- Martin Nuñez, forward
- Kentaro Takada, midfield
- Kevin Venegas, midfield
All but Venegas have been regulars in the Stars side recently. "We're going to have to be careful," said coach Manny Lagos, hinting that some or all of these players will be rested to avoid the possible suspension for the playoffs.
These two teams met on Tuesday, at the NSC Stadium in Blaine, with Minnesota running out 4-0 winners. That said, it's a different Islanders team in Puerto Rico this week; not only are they home, not only are they not playing two road games in four days as they did Tuesday, but 12 Islander players are returning from mid-week international duty. Unlike Tuesday, they'll have a full roster from which to choose.