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Sunday, February 20, 2011
Tracking the playoff race

By Mark Stepneski

Sunday was a sign of just how tight things are in the Western Conference playoff race, and how quickly things can change.

When Minnesota picked up a point in a shootout loss to Detroit in the afternoon, the Wild jumped from 10th place in the West to sixth. But the Wild’s stay there was temporary.

When Calgary knocked off Montreal in the Heritage Classic a few hours later, the two points the Flames gained pushed them from 10th in the West to sixth.

All that left the Stars, who started the day in sixth, in the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference. And that’s where they’ll be Tuesday when they try to snap out their recent slide that has seen them go 1-7-1 since the All-Star break and 2-9-1 since Jan. 20.

Over the last 12 games, they’ve gone from having a nine-point lead over eighth place to being in eighth place. The 12-point lead they had on 11th place is now down to two points.

On Jan. 20, after the Stars beat Edmonton, the site Sports Club Stats gave them a 98.6 percent chance of making the playoffs. At the end of Sunday’s action, the Stars’ chances were down to 42.7 percent.

But despite the recent slide and the positioning lost in the standings, there is still a lot of hockey to be played. The Stars obviously need to get their game in order because they still have an opportunity to have a big say in how this all plays out. Eighteen of their final 23 games are against teams within five points of them in the Western Conference standings. They’ll have a chance to control their own fate in head-to-head matchups with the teams they are battling.

Of course, it’s much same story for all those other teams in the West that are bunched up between 73 and 63 points. They’ll all be playing each other too. There are 11 of them, including the Stars, and only six spots are available if you figure Vancouver and Detroit are secure at this point. And there’s 49 days left to sort out who gets in and who gets left out.