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Eyes on the playoffs: 38 games and counting

Dallas Stars record through 43 games: 19-17-7 (45 points)

Division rank: 4th

Conference rank: 11th

Points out of eigth place: 2

The season didn't start as planned; after a miracle run in the playoffs that saw the Dallas Stars extend Detroit to six games in the Western Conference Finals many saw this as a banner year for the team. However the loss of several key veterans to retirement and free agency affected the Stars in ways none predicted. Forced to play young players sooner than expected due to injuries to Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov, the Stars struggled to find an identity and seemed aimless as stalwart leadership that had been around for years was suddenly vacant.

The offseason addition of league bad boy Sean Avery only complicated matters. Team leaders were forced to try and accept a player they had no respect for off the ice. The Stars were inconsistent the first two month and while there were some great games scattered throughout, for the most part the Stars were becoming a disappointment. A team that many thought would contend with Detroit and San Jose for top spot in the West now found themselves in the basement of the conference. When captain Brenden Morrow was lost for (most likely) the rest of the season on November 20th it seemed the team has gone as low as it could. With their heart and soul vacant many thought the Stars were to be written off once and for all.

It's amazing what the addition of a respected veteran and the loss of a nuisance can do for a proud organization.

Within a 10 day span the Stars traded for popular defensemen Daryl Sydor and suspended the useless Sean Avery. While results weren't immediate things did start to turn around and the Stars found in themselves the will and determination to crawl out of the gutter of the division.

With the All-Star break just a week away and a smidge over the halfway point in the season Dallas finds themselves in prime position to climb their way back into a playoff spot. It's a crowded field they must fight through, however: the 5th through 12th seeds are all separated by just six points. The Stars sit at 45 points, two back of 8th spot Minnesota and just six back from Anaheim. The good news is that Dallas has at least one game in hand on every team in the conference with the exception of Chicago (58 points).

The Stars have shown the ability and potential to become a dominant Western Conference team once again. Unfortunately they have still shown inconsistencies on defense that have hounded them all season. Lately the Stars have been unable to put games away in regulation and have been forced to win games either in overtime or in the shootout. The good news is that the Stars have been able to earn at least one point in 14 of their last 20 games. Unfortunately, the majority of the extra points in these games have gone to teams they are jostling with for position in the Western Conference.

The Stars have two games this week before take a short break for the All Star game. Both are against Eastern Conference teams that are currently out of the playoffs. Dallas is primed to get a four point boost heading into the break and gain ground on those teams in front. If the Stars are to prove they are capable of making a run for a playoff spot its these games that will define their potential.

Briefly: Mike Heika is reporting that Stephane Robidas has been invited to the 2009 All Star game as a fill-in player. It's Robidas' first career all star selection and he joins Mike Modano as the Dallas Stars' representative in Montreal. More on this story later in the week.

Thanks to DBD regular Smoak Some for the link in the comments.