Dark sides for Dallas

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

DALLAS -- After years of privilege and fortune, the Dallas Stars are finally getting a taste of how the other half lives.

Truth be told, they don't like it very much.

Losing streaks, mounting injuries, salary cap issues, fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot - all the stuff that normal teams have to cope with - used to be foreign to the mighty Stars.

Not anymore. There was the Sean Avery storm, long-term injuries to Sergei Zubov, Brenden Morrow and now Brad Richards, they were dead last in the west at one point and a new CBA means they can no longer solve their problems by simply writing a cheque.

"I'm not going to lie to you, I loved our position when we were 20 games over .500 and you could go into a game and you knew injuries weren't a factor," said Stars coach Dave Tippett.

"Now, when you're scratching and clawing ... I'd love to be ahead in the standings, but that's a great part of our game when you have an us against the world mentality and you come out and find ways to get the job done."

There's something to be said for 110 points and a $75 million payroll, but the Stars are learning to cope, succeed even, in the new-world order. They've climbed back into the top eight, going 9-3 in their last 12 games, and are vowing not to let Richards's recent injury knock them off their stride.

"I've always, since I've been here, been at the top of the standings," said Stars agitator Steve Ott.

"It's a lot easier to have a bit of breathing room, just knowing that you have it. But this is fun, you have no choice but to be in a playoff atmosphere almost every game.

"The intensity is definitely going to be high the rest of the way. I enjoy that type of hockey, but it's definitely physically and mentally draining."

Goaltender Marty Turco isn't expecting a lot of sympathy for a team that had 100 points or more in eight of the last 11 years, and 97 points in two others.

"No one feels sorry for us," he said, adding a lot of the Stars have never been exposed to this type of mid-season adversity before.

"It's been a challenge, for sure. Getting in that position early in the season, yeah, it was different. Maybe it took us a little longer to figure things out, but we did. All that being said, we could be out of the playoffs in two days."

It's that close.

"But, as the Stars are discovering, there's something to be said for must-win games in February. Nothing stokes the adrenal gland like a playoff chase.

"It is exciting and it raises your hairs and gets your fever up a little bit, that's nothing but a good thing," said Turco.

"As athletes it's fun. It creates new challenges and situations in your career that you've probably taken for granted.

"Over the last decade we've been expected to be on top, whether it's payroll or players. We've had good teams.

"Maybe there were some nights before when you're playing at home against some teams... that you took it for granted (that the Stars would win), and maybe they did too.

"That's just not the case anymore, especially here in the west. There's no off nights. It's been tough, but it's been good at the same time.

"We're embracing the challenge, we're really going to have to push through this together to collect points and stay in the race. It's a dog fight and we're going to have to have that mentality. We don't have a choice."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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