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Despite Slide, Stars Still Upbeat About Playoff Race

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

A week ago the Dallas Stars had a two point lead over the Phoenix Coyotes for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but a rough road trip that saw them lose three games in regulation has now left them four points back in the race for that final spot. But the Stars say it is no time to panic.

There are ups and downs over the course of the season, and there is still plenty of hockey left in this one.

“There shouldn’t be a whole lot of panic,” said Stars forward Shawn Horcoff. “We were going at a pretty good clip, but you are not going to go into the playoffs 20-6-0. You could, but that’s unlikely. There are going to be dips over the last 25 games. We’ve had ours, hopefully. If you look at Phoenix, they’re clipping pretty good and they really haven’t had one yet. You can’t really expect, but you’ve got to hope the law of averages works out and it happens to them, so if we play well we can get those [points] back.”

The Stars are down four points, but they still have a game in hand on the Coyotes and they play at Phoenix in the final game of the season for both teams. All things being even the rest of the way, the Stars still feel they are in control of their destiny.

“If you look at it now, if we win our game in hand and we beat them head-to-head, we’re in. That’s going to be our focus going forward,” said Horcoff.

But first things first, and that means the Stars need to end their current slide, which hit four games with Thursday’s 4-2 loss in Philadelphia. The Stars saw positives in that game, perhaps a sign that things are about to turn around. The hope is that turn around will come Saturday, when they take on the Ottawa Senators at American Airlines Center.

“We win tomorrow and we’re right back there,” said Horcoff. “Then it’s our turn to put some pressure on Phoenix.”

Players and coaches usually talk about taking it one game at a time, but Stars coach Lindy Ruff admitted he has taken the long-term look at what the Stars have to do over their final 13 games. He thinks they have to play .700 hockey, which would mean winning 9 of 13 games for 18 points out of a possible 26 points to give themselves a chance.

“I do a lot of mental crunching, especially after last night and after this road trip,” said Ruff. “You look at the last game against Phoenix, if we win, it depends on where they go and where we go but this could come down to the last game of the year, and we own the tiebreaker. They are not going to win all their games so, for us, I think winning seven out of ten is a good number.”

Not an easy task, but no one expected it to be easy.

“This is the playoffs, it is supposed to be hard to get into,” said Horcoff. “If you are the sixth, seventh or eighth team, you are facing adversity going in. There’s no easy ride.”

Practice notes: Horcoff practices, could play Saturday

*Forward Shawn Horcoff, who has missed the last four games with a broken pinkie finger, is expected to be in the lineup Saturday vs. Ottawa. Horcoff went through a full practice Friday and said he was ready to play. Stars coach Lindy Ruff sounded as if he thought Horcoff would be available.

“I think there’s a chance. He skated hard while we were gone. I think there is an opportunity for him to get back in,” Ruff said.

The Stars coach said the return of the veteran forward should bring a boost to the lineup.

“He’s a veteran guy who has been through these situations,” said Ruff. “He’s been an important piece in parts of our game and with him out, at times, some of our penalty killing has been hurt by it.”

*Forward Alex Chiasson was on the ice for the start of Friday’s practice, but left early.

“He was hurting. I just asked him and he said he didn’t feel good,” Ruff said. “I told him to get off, get treatment because we couldn’t take a chance of it getting any worse in practice.”

*Forward Erik Cole did not practice. Ruff said it was a maintenance day.

“He was a little banged up from last night, hopefully he’ll be OK for tomorrow,” Ruff said.

Friday’s practice lineup

Jamie BennTyler SeguinAlex Chiasson
Ray WhitneyCody EakinColton Sceviour
Antoine RousselVernon FiddlerRyan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff
Chris MuellerValeri Nichushkin

Alex GoligoskiTrevor Daley
Jordie BennBrenden Dillon
Kevin Connauton/Aaron RomeSergei Gonchar

Kari Lehtonen
Tim Thomas

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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