VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars could meet in the first round of the playoffs, but it feels like the postseason already has begun for both teams.
Friday's game (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN) will be the fourth between the Canucks and Stars in just over a month, a rarity this late in the season for teams that don't play in the same division. With the Stars fighting just to make the playoffs, the intensity has been ratcheted up with each meeting, adding a playoff feel to the season series.
"It's been pretty spirited," Canucks forward Chris Higgins said. “They are fighting for their lives and want to get first in their division so they are going to come with a playoff-type game. It's fun playing these guys. They are a competitive group."
The fact Dallas, which comes in atop the Pacific Division but with three teams within a point, could be a first-round opponent, adds to a budding rivalry.
"It helps set the tone, at least," Higgins added. “It's one of a couple teams we're probably going to play in the playoffs, so you want to make sure they know they are going to be in for a difficult series if they play against us."
The Stars won the first two meetings, but the Canucks won the last one, 2-1 in Dallas on March 22, part of a four-game win streak in which Vancouver has given up just three goals while focusing on improved defensive play.
For the Stars, it will be important to fight through the tighter checking without getting frustrated by it, a balance center Vernon Fiddler says they're ready to manage in a season series with a rising level of dislike between the sides.
“We've both got guys that are a little edgy and it brings the best out of everybody and it's great for hockey," said Fiddler, whose impersonation of Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa's “angry face" during a recent game only added to the budding rivalry. “The games that mean the most, there is a lots of emotion in them and both sides are bringing that. When our team is emotionally in the game we play a little bit better, but obviously we don't want a bunch of stupid penalties."
They need two points more than anything, Fiddler added, but if they also can send a message to a potential first-round opponent in the process, all the better.
“They're a great team over there, but we think we match up pretty good against them," Fiddler said. “It could be a potential playoff opponent, so you want to be at your best and I think we've already played them pretty good this year."