FRISCO -- The Dallas Stars have played 78 games over the first 180 days of the NHL regular season and now their hopes of making the playoffs will depend on what takes place in the final six days.
The Stars have four games in those six days and they need to find a way to track down the teams ahead of them in the standings. Eighth place Chicago is three points ahead and seventh place Anaheim is four points ahead.
“It’s huge. Our season in on the line and we know what’s at stake,” said forward Brandon Segal, one of the players who took part in Monday’s optional skate in Frisco. “We just can’t hold back. We’ve got to lay everything out there. It’s going to be exciting. It’s a fun time of the year to play and every game is so important.”
The Stars’ playoff hopes got a shot of much needed life when they knocked off Anaheim 4-3 in regulation Sunday night, snapping a six-game winless streak and gaining ground on both Chicago and Anaheim. A loss there would have been basically fatal to their hopes, but now they live on.
“It was huge,” said Segal. “We needed that win. We had a tough couple weeks there.”
After ten straight games and 19 of the last 21 against teams in the playoffs or in playoff contention, the Stars close out the season with four games against teams out of the playoff picture. But those teams can still be dangerous.
“Everyone wants to play spoiler,” Segal said. “And the guys on those teams are playing for contracts, so they’re going to try to put their best foot forward and showcase themselves. There’s still a lot at stake for them. We’ve just got to make sure we’re mentally prepared for these games.”
It starts Tuesday with Columbus, a team the Stars are 1-1-1 against this season. A team that has struggled for the most part lately, will be without its top player in Rick Nash, but a team that has played well recently against teams like Washington and Chicago.
“Every game we played against them was a one-goal game, said Stars coach Marc Crawford. “They’re a good defensive club and they play hard. We have to play with that same desperation and energy we had against Anaheim.”
The Stars will close out the season with some tough scheduling as far as several games in a short amount of time. Tuesday’s game will be their third in four days. They play a home-and-home with Colorado on Thursday and Friday, and Friday’s game in Denver will be the Stars’ fifth game in seven days. The regular season finale in Minnesota on Sunday will be their sixth in nine days. Crawford said the scheduling won’t be an issue considering what it is at stake.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a problem with motivation. The motivation is definitely there. That’s a big part of making sure you’re energized. The stakes are so high ,” said Crawford. “Individually, we’ve got to make sure we are ready for [Tuesday]. That’s the biggest one we’ve got. The first game back after a road trip, we know what the pitfalls are there and we’ve got to be ready right off the bat.”
That’s because the Stars need to run the table over these last four games to give themselves a chance and they can’t do that unless they take care of the first one on the plate.
“We’ve got to win [Tuesday] night. That’s the most important thing,” said Crawford. “[Tuesday] night, if we win it keeps us going. We’re not out of this. We always keep fighting. That’s what we’ve been about and that’s what we have to continue to be about.”
Stars defenseman Mark Fistric, who missed Sunday’s game with an upper body injury, practiced on Monday. Fistric said he was injured when he took a high stick during Saturday’s game in Los Angeles and should be ready to go for Tuesday. Stars coach Marc Crawford said Fistric “may be a possibility” for Tuesday.
Forward Adam Burish (leg) practiced as well. Burish who has missed ten games is not expected to play tomorrow, but could be a possibility later in the week.
Nicklas Grossman (knee) skated own his own during Monday’s practice. Crawford said he could be possibility later in the week.
Brian Sutherby (back) skated, but is not ready to return.