There are still several playoff spots up for grabs in the wide-open Western Conference. The Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings, however, aren't getting any closer to claiming them.
The Stars look to snap a four-game losing streak Thursday night when they host the Pacific Division rival Kings, losers of three straight.
Dallas (33-32-8) appeared to be in good shape for its sixth consecutive postseason berth after going 9-3-0 in its first 12 games after the All-Star break. Since that hot streak, however, the Stars have gone 4-11-1 to fall into 12th place in the West.
They've been outscored 16-7 during their four-game slide, which continued with a 5-2 home defeat to Vancouver on Tuesday night. Dallas is one loss shy of matching its season-high skid, set from Feb. 21-March 1.
"It's disappointing," said forward Brendan Morrison, who scored his third goal in three games. "We have nine games to go and who knows what can happen. We have to approach the next game like it's the last game of the year."
Sixth-year forward Steve Ott, who has never missed the playoffs in his career spent entirely with Dallas, hopes the Stars can start playing with more urgency down the stretch.
"You hate to even think of yourselves out of a playoff spot and right now we're out of a playoff spot," Ott told the team's official Web site. "The reality is we have to win games and collect points to make a playoff push. We have nine games left and we're going to have to start Thursday night and start getting points. If not, we're going to be dreaming about this and having a hell of a long summer."
Los Angeles (30-33-10) appears to be on the way to its sixth consecutive long summer after following a 4-2-1 stretch with three straight losses. The 13th-place Kings, four points behind the Stars, have been outscored 10-2 during the losing streak but haven't given up on contending for a playoff spot.
"We are in the playoff hunt," forward Michal Handzus told the Kings' official Web site after a 2-0 loss at St. Louis on Tuesday night. "Obviously, we are farther away than we wanted to be, but we still want to win some games."
Playoff-bound or not, the Kings consider the stretch run a significant part of their rebuilding process.
"They're huge and important games for us as a team," captain Dustin Brown said. "From a growth standpoint, these are playoff atmosphere games, playoff teams that are fighting for playoff spots. We want to be in the playoffs this year or any year to come after. These are games we're going to have to learn how to play in."
Los Angeles and Dallas have played each other closely this season, going to two shootouts and one overtime in the first four meetings. The Kings have gone 3-0-1 in the series, while the Stars are 1-1-2.
They meet for the final time Tuesday night in Los Angeles.