A winding path to the playoffs?

FRISCO, Texas -- It's amazing how one win -- and only the second for the Stars in the last 10 games -- can alter the outlook heading into the final four games of the season.

Make no mistake: The Stars have a difficult assignment ahead of them if they are to make the playoffs. But Sunday's win over Anaheim means it's not impossible.

Mark Fistric admitted that he used to look at the standings and try to figure out the combinations for the Stars to get in.

"But not anymore," Fistric said. "We know what we have to do. We have to win. That's it. We do that and we've got a chance. We showed that [Sunday]. We're three points back with four games left. That's it. We're desperate and we played like it. Now we have to do that the rest of the way. Every guy in here believes we can do it."

The good news is Dallas has four games remaining against teams that will not be making the playoffs in 2011. It's a chance to beat up on the bottom feeders. The bad news is that means the Stars can't beat anyone they are trying to catch, thus taking points away from those they are chasing. So they need some help. And they'll have to win these four games in a span of six days, including back-to-back games with Colorado, the second at high altitude.

Perhaps the best way for the Stars to deal with the difficult playoff climb is to think of it in two-game sections. First, they must beat Columbus (Tuesday) and Colorado (Thursday) at home. If they do, they could find themselves in position to overtake seventh-place Anaheim or eight-place Chicago in the final two games for a playoff spot.

We could go through the various combinations, but if you look at the remaining schedules there is a path to the playoffs for the Stars -- if they can travel down it. Chicago isn't playing particularly well and still has games against Montreal on the road, St. Louis at home and then a home-and-home with Detroit. It's possible the Blackhawks go 1-1 in those first two games, which means two Dallas wins and the Stars would be one point back of Chicago with two to play. If Anaheim loses in regulation to San Jose on Wednesday, the Stars could actually tie the Ducks with two to play. Again, all of this is based on Dallas winning its next two games.

From there, the Stars could wake up Friday morning knowing they are still in the hunt.

None of it will be easy, thanks to the last two-plus months. It's shocking to consider that on Jan. 20, the Stars sat on top of the Pacific Division by six points and were 29-13-5. They had a 10-point lead over the ninth-place team and were 14 points up on San Jose and 17 points ahead of Calgary. Since then, Dallas is 10-15-6. And that's including a 6-0-2 streak in late February and early March. They are 2-5-3 since March 13.

The freefall has them trying to claw back into a position that seemed secure not so long ago. But Stars coach Marc Crawford isn't thinking about any of that now. He's just wants to see the same Stars team that took the ice Sunday.

"I think that was the best we've played the last three games," Crawford said. "It was more like what we did in Phoenix. The guys decided they weren't going to let them beat us in that third period."

Crawford said energy is the key going forward. He's not worried about the compact schedule, arguing that desperation will help the tired bodies (and he's going to give them breaks, like Monday's optional skate at Dr Pepper StarCenter, where most of the team rested).

"We have to play with a lot of energy," Crawford said. "It's going to the net hard, checking hard, pushing hard. It's doing anything we can do to win. It's playing with a little bit of an edge, but smart. We were desperate against Anaheim. It felt good to win because we've been so close. Our guys wouldn't be denied. That has to continue."

Stay tuned.