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Sunday, February 19, 2012
The picture can brighten with a win tonight

By Mark Stepneski

Tonight’s game against Nashville would be a good one for the Stars to get over that second game of back-to-backs hump. A win over the Predators and things don’t look so bad for the Stars when it comes to the playoff race. They’d be one point out with 23 games to go.

The Stars have had games in hand on a lot of the teams they are battling with a spot, and tonight’s game is that final game in hand. It will give them 59 games played, the same Phoenix, Calgary and Los Angeles. They'll still have one on Colorado.

As with all games in hand, they don’t mean much unless you do something with them. A win and the Stars are one point back, and they’ve picked up two points from where they were they came out of the break. Maybe not everything they were hoping, but still some ground gained. It's not a sprint to the end, it's a marathon.

If it’s a regulation loss then they have squandered those games in hand, but it's far from fatal.

As up and down and as frustrating as the Stars have been coming out of the break, they aren’t operating in a vacuum. There are things going on around them that have an effect on the race.

A couple of teams – Phoenix and Calgary – have gone on nice runs since the All-Star break and pulled into playoff spots. But it’s not like they are in a comfortable position. The Kings have slipped, missed an opportunity to give themselves some breathing room in the race and are now in a real fight for a playoff spot. Colorado had played more games than everybody else at the break, so they've lost ground by playing .500 hockey but are still around it.  The Wild have tanked and are falling out of the picture.

Sixth-seeded Chicago has slipped and is now looking over its shoulder at the Coyotes and Flames. Anaheim, currently in 13th, has put together a great run, but the hill looks pretty steep. A lot of teams to climb over and everybody can't lose.

The bottom line is the Stars are still right in the thick of things, and the picture can brighten with a couple points tonight.

Here’s a look at how teams ranked 7th through 12th in the Western Conference playoff race have fared since the break.