On Feb. 20, 2011, the Buffalo Sabres dropped their third game in a row, falling to the Washington Capitals 2-1 despite a 37-save performance by goalie Ryan Miller. The loss dropped them to a mediocre 27-25-6 with 24 games to go. Traditionally, the magic number to make the postseason is around 95 standings points, and Buffalo needed 35 during the remainder of the season to get a sniff.
Head coach Lindy Ruff lacked answers for his team's struggles. He said players were gripping sticks too tightly -- that cliché was about the best he could come up with amid the frustration. Toward the end of his news conference, he paused, sighed and said, "We're all disappointed."
Following that late-February loss, the Sabres earned points in 20 of their final 24 games and made the playoffs.
Four years later, Ruff is at it again.
To begin the 2014-15 season, it took 27 games for the Dallas Stars to get to double-digit wins. Since December, however, they have seen a significant turnaround, going 14-7-2 since a four-game losing streak came to an end on Dec. 6.
The Stars are now locked in the tightest battle for playoff position in the NHL. They sit six points behind the Calgary Flames (No. 3 in the Pacific Division) and four behind the Vancouver Canucks for the final wild card spot, with two games in hand. The Los Angeles Kings are one point ahead of Dallas, and the Stars are tied with the Colorado Avalanche, who have played one more game.
It will require another magical run, but Ruff and the Stars can do it. Based on the standings, they are long shots. But dig a little deeper into the numbers and you will find that Dallas' landing a playoff spot isn't all that far-fetched. Here are five reasons why.