Monday, January 31, 2011
Stars look for strong start out of break
By Mark Stepneski
The Dallas Stars made the most of the 50 games leading up to the NHL’s All-Star break, putting themselves in a good position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08. Now, they need to use the 32 games after the break to close the deal.
“We set ourselves up with our play in the first 50 games of the season, but none of that matters. You almost have to look at it as though you’re starting anew,” said Stars coach Marc Crawford. “We got off to a great start in the regular season when we won our first four games. We don’t want to look past our first game, but we have to look to get off to a great start again.”
The Stars come out of the break with a 30-15-5 record. They have a five point lead in the Pacific Division and a nine point lead over the teams battling for the final playoff spot in the conference. But there’s still a lot of hockey to be played and a lot of teams still in the hunt.
“It’s going to be a sprint to the finish,” said Crawford. “We want to take care of business and you take care of business by winning the games and getting the points when they are available to you. That’s the best way to get where this club hasn’t been in a couple of years, which is playing meaningful games in April.”
The Stars stumbled out of the Olympic break last season, going 1-5-1 and seriously damaging their playoff chances. They are in a much stronger position than they were a year ago, and they want to keep it that way.
“We’ve set ourselves up to have points on the eighth spot and the only way we are going to continue to push is to have that quick start off the break,” said forward Steve Ott. “Just like we came out the season gates, we have to have that same mentality. This is the last final playoff part of the season. This is the crunch time and we have to come focused and strong.”
The Stars will get a good test in this first week of play following the break. They play the top team in the West when they host Vancouver and then hit the road for games against the top team in the East (Philadelphia) and another division leader (Boston).
“It’s a tough week. We’re playing the top two teams and another first place club. It’s all top teams in the league, but we’re a top team too,” said Crawford. “So, we’ve got to take care of our own game and make sure we present ourselves in a fashion where we can try and get whatever point is available.”
And it all starts Tuesday with the Canucks, a team that has beaten the Stars twice by a combined score of 11-2.
“Vancouver beat us handily in the two games that we played,” said Crawford. “It makes it easy to capture everybody’s attention, and the focus that we’ve got to have for playing one of the powers in the league is definitely going to be there.”
*Forwards Jamie Benn (shoulder) and Tom Wandell (shoulder) are not expected to play this week, according to coach Marc Crawford. Both players skated prior to practice.
*Defenseman Jeff Woywitka (shoulder) practiced and is questionable for Tuesday.
*Forward Toby Petersen (leg) remains on injured reserve.
*The Stars recalled forwards Aaron Gagnon and Travis Morin from the Texas Stars (AHL) on Monday. Both practiced with the team in Frisco.
*Kari Lehtonen will start in goal on Tuesday.