Showdown with Coyotes opens key stretch for Stars

DALLAS -- Dallas Stars defenseman Mark Fistric chuckled when it was mentioned to him that Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes was the biggest of the season -- until the next game.

“Yeah, we’ve been saying that for the last 30 games,” Fistric said with a laugh. “But it’s huge. You look at the standings and where everyone is right now, it’s a huge game. Any way you look at it, it is game one of the playoffs for us.”

After a three day break, Tuesday’s game against the Coyotes kicks off the final ten games of the regular season that will determine if the Stars will make the playoffs.

“We are looking at these ten games like a playoff series,” said Stars captain Brenden Morrow. “We want to win game one.”

The Stars enter Tuesday’s game tied with the Coyotes at 83 points, but the Stars hold the Pacific Division lead because they have played one fewer game than Phoenix and have the better points percentage. A win and the Stars hold onto the division lead. A loss and the Stars are looking up at the Coyotes in the Pacific.

It's not just a battle for the division lead. It's a battle to keep from falling out of the top eight. Both teams are just one point up on ninth place in conference and a loss, especially a regulation loss, moves one of them closer to being out of a playoff spot.

“It’s so tight that one or two games and you can drop out that fast. We understand that and we know what we have to do,” said Stars forward Michael Ryder. “It’s just a matter of us going out there and playing the way we can, and not focus too much on other teams and what they do.”

The two teams have followed similar paths to where they are now - the Stars holding the third seed in the West and the Coyotes sitting in the seventh spot. Both were out of a playoff spot at the All-Star break, but both have put together impressive runs after the break. Phoenix went 11-0-1 at one point, and the Stars were on a 10-0-1 run until losses to Winnipeg (Wednesday) and Chicago (Friday).

“We went on that run and were still not that far ahead. That’s just the way it is. You can’t afford to lose too many in a row,” said Ryder. “With ten games left we’ve got to give it all we can.”

This will be the sixth and final meeting between the two teams this season. The Stars are 2-2-1 in the series, and the Coyotes are 3-0-2, including victories in the last three games.

“It’s going to be a tough game against Phoenix. Both teams are fighting for their lives,” said Morrow. “It’s going to be the first team that blinks that is going to lose the game. We’ve got to play a full 60 minutes.”

And Fistric said it’s going to the Stars playing their game for 60 minutes to secure points against the well-disciplined, defensive-minded Coyotes.

“We’ve got to go in with the mentality to play our game and don’t shy away from it,” said Fistric. “That’s how Phoenix beats teams. They play consistently and force teams to shy away from their game. I think our plan has to be play Stars hockey, and play for a full 60 minutes.”

Notes: Souray, Dvorak probable for Tuesday

Stars defenseman Sheldon Souray (charley horse) and right wing Radek Dvorak (ankle) both practiced Monday and both are probable for Tuesday’s game against Phoenix. Souray has missed the last four games and Dvorak has missed the last three.