- Mark Stepneski, ESPNDallas.com
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FRISCO -- With the NHL trade deadline having come and gone, the focus for the Dallas Stars now turns to the stretch drive. In their case it’s the final 19 games of the season that will determine if they can make the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08.
The Stars got a vote of a confidence at Monday’s trade deadline when GM Joe Nieuwendyk stood pat at the trade deadline, saying he believed this group earned a shot to make a run at earning a spot in the NHL’s postseason tournament.
“I took it that we have a good we have a good playoff team right now with a mentality that we want to continue to push for the playoffs. I am lucky to be a part of that,” said Stars forward Steve Ott, one of the players Nieuwendyk could have moved at the deadline.
But Nieuwendyk kept Ott and the rest of the group together. The team’s current four-game winning streak helped the cause. So did it’s climb into the top eight into the Western Conference.
“We felt if we always kept this ship moving in the right direction, we would get our result,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “These next 19 games are going to tell a tale.”
The Stars aren’t just battling for that final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They are only three points behind sixth-seeded San Jose.
“We believe in each other in this dressing room. We have from the get-go. No matter how bad things were six weeks ago, we are now it a playoff spot,” said Ott. “We’re looking forward to grabbing more points and moving up in the standings.”
But the race is still tight. After Tuesday’s games, only three points separated the teams ranked sixth through tenth in the West. Still, with some big recent wins under their belts and a vote of confidence from management, the Stars are ready anxious to get going.
“Our team is excited to go to battle. They are a close-knit group. They are excited to go to battle with each other,” said Gulutzan. “I know that’s a cliché, but this group does like each other a lot. It’s a very tight group and those can be dangerous teams when you are that tight and committed to the same cause. “
Benn set to return
Stars forward Jamie Benn, who has missed the last six games with a leg injury, will return for Wednesday’s game against Pittsburgh.
“Benny has been a huge player for us all season and we've managed without him and now he has to come back in and it's going to give us a big boost for sure,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “Whenever you get a chance to get arguably your best player back, you welcome it with open arms.”
Benn practiced on a line with Steve Ott and Adam Burish Tuesday.
Benn was injured on February 16 when he was cut by the skate of Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano.