SAN JOSE The Dallas Stars have been here before.
With four games left to play in 2011, the Stars were just three points out of a playoff spot, and their fate was only decided on the last day of the regular season when they fell just short.
The Sharks already had the Pacific Division wrapped up at that point, of course, and were more concerned about whether theyd finish as the second of the third seed. They ended the season with 105 points, trailing only the Vancouver Canucks (117).
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Headed into their home-and-home with the Sharks, I asked Stars coach Glen Gulutzan if his team can draw from its down-the-stretch experience last year as opposed to San Jose, which is patently not used to having to fight just to get in.
I dont think so, I think every year is different, Gulutzan said. Weve got a lot of new guys, too. Experience is certainly something that you can lean on, but I think thats more come playoff time and with guys that have been in situations five or six times.
We were in this situation once with 10 or 12 guys and I dont think theres a lot that were drawing on this year from last year. This team is its own.
Among the "new guys" are Gulutzan himself, in his first year as head coach of Dallas after serving in the same capacity for their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, for two seasons. After hosting the Sharks on Tuesday, Dallas ends its season with two tough games at Nashville on April 5, and home against the Blues on April 7.
Its a good old fashioned battle between four hockey teams that are all competitive, Gulutzan said, referring also to the Coyotes and Kings. Youve got to embrace that and be ready to play each and every game. As important as this game is, theres going to be three important ones after it. Our focus is going to be on today, and then move forward after that. In some regards, I think the Sharks are saying the same thing.