WASHINGTON -- Although the Dallas Stars might be closing in on the end of their season, forward Ales Hemsky feels like he's starting over.
After working his way back from hip surgery on Oct. 31, Hemsky, 33, is three games into his comeback and already running out of time. Even after a 4-2 win against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on Monday, the Stars (27-29-10) are five points out of the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference with 16 games remaining.
Barring a miracle run, Hemsky's season will end with the Stars' 2016-17 finale against the Colorado Avalanche on April 8. Regardless, Hemsky is glad he made it back to play before it was time to head home for the summer.
"For me, it's just a positive I'm here," he said. "I worked hard to put myself in this position, so I feel pretty good about that. … I'm just happy to be playing."
Hemsky was injured while playing at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in Toronto. During the third period of Team Czech Republic's final preliminary-round game against Team USA on Sept. 22, he felt something tear.
"I just felt it inside," Hemsky said. "I thought I tore a muscle there. I came back to Dallas and I tried to rehab. I was thinking I would come back. I played one game, but it wasn't getting better. I had to go for surgery."
The initial prognosis was that Hemsky would be out 5-6 months, which meant he'd possibly miss the remainder of the season. After having surgery on his left hip following the 2014-15 season, he knew he had a difficult road ahead.
"You can come back after five months but it usually takes longer to feel the same speed and the same touch," he said. "It takes eight months, sometimes a year. You just have to adjust. You just have to get used to it."
Unfortunately for Hemsky, he's had a lot of experience with coming back from long layoffs because of injuries.
"I've already had four surgeries, so it's more a mental grind," he said. "Every time when you actually feel good again and you get back, something happens and you've got to go through it again."
This time, Hemsky made it back in a little more than four months, returning for a 5-4 home loss to the New York Islanders on March 2. But jumping into high-paced games during the stretch drive has been a challenge.
"When you don't play for that long, it doesn't matter what you do," he said. "You can work hard for as long as you want [in rehab], but game situations and timing, everything, it takes time I guess."
The situation Hemsky has returned to is not one he or the Stars anticipated. After losing to the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round last spring, they hoped to take the next step this season.
But a slew of injuries -- they've lost 272 man games -- and a 4-6-3 start put the Stars in a hole they haven't been able to recover from. Their high-water mark of 16-14-7 came after a three-game winning streak from Dec. 23 to Dec. 29. That's the only time they've won as many as three consecutive games this season.
Already looking to the future, general manager Jim Nill traded away forwards Patrick Eaves and Lauri Korpikoski and defensemen Jordie Benn and Johnny Oduya prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on March 1.
But Hemsky said, as long as the Stars are alive mathematically in the playoff race, they need to keep pushing.
"We have  games left. That's still a lot of games," he said. "We just have to focus for every game and go game by game. You're still a hockey player. That's your job."
With the Stars roster further depleted following the trades, coach Lindy Ruff is happy Hemsky is back.
"Ales was a big part of our team last year," Ruff said. "Going down the stretch, he played really well for us. Obviously, it's tough to step in this time of the year, but I thought he's handled the game pretty well and he's only going to get better."
Hemsky played on a line with rookie left wing Remi Elie and center Cody Eakin on Monday. As a veteran of 14 NHL seasons, Hemsky can serve as a mentor for Elie, who made his NHL debut in a 2-1 win against the Florida Panthers two nights earlier.
"We'll talk and make him feel relaxed and just let him know he doesn't have to worry," said Hemsky, who has no points in four games this season. "You don't have to pass it to us or force anything. Just play your game and work hard."
Although the Stars are a long shot to make the playoffs, Hemsky has a lot at stake over the final 16 games. He is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and knows he'll probably be looking for a job this summer.
Hemsky had a solid 2015-16 season with 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) in 75 games, but after having surgery on each hip over the past two years, he'll have to prove again that he can play in the NHL.
"If there's an opportunity here, I would love to stay here and play for the Dallas Stars," he said. "But I'm not even thinking about it right now because I've been injured and I'm just happy I can play some games and show if I can play or not."