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Saturday, February 26, 2011
Key stretch ahead for Stars

By Mark Stepneski

The Dallas Stars got a big win in Detroit on Thursday, but the challenges will continue to come as the team battles for a playoff spot over the next 21 games.

Their next ten games and 17 of their next 18 games are head-to-head tilts against teams in the incredibly tight race for playoff spots in the Western Conference. It's an opportunity for the Stars to gain crucial points and take points away from other fighting to land a spot in the top eight in the West.

The Stars open the stretch Saturday afternoon at American Airlines Center with the Nashville Predators, who are tied with the Stars at 70 points

“Each game individually poses a great challenge,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “You’ve got two teams tied in points playing [Saturday]. I expect it to be a close, hard-fought battle and our guys have got to prepare for a close, hard-fought battle. What’s the difference between playing like in a game like that and playing a team like Detroit? I don’t think a great deal. Detroit captures your attention with their skill level, how good they are and with the respect that they command. With Nashville, it’s going to be a tight game and we have to have the same type of attention, if not even greater attention in our preparation for this game.”

After giving up 13 goals in three games during their recent three-game swing through Western Canada, the Stars tightened up things defensively and have allowed just two goals in their last two games, and both of those goals came when the opposition was on the power play.

“Our defensive position has been very as of late and we have to continue to do that,” said Crawford. “If we can limit the opposition to a short number of chances, if we can do ourselves a huge favor and not be killing penalties all the time, then that helps us even more.”

Goligoski gets acclimated

Saturday will be defenseman Alex Goligoski’s third game with the Stars since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins for left wing James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen.

Goligoski picked up his first point (an assist) as a Star and was a plus-three in Thursday’s win over Detroit. He said so far, so good with the adjustment to his new team and teammates.

“It’s going good. Obviously they do things a little differently than I am used to, but it hasn’t been too bad at all,” Goligoski said after Friday’s practice in Frisco. “Just go out there and play, keep a few things in mind. It’s getting used to how guys play, tendencies and stuff. It’s just little things and, obviously, systems.”

After Friday’s practice Stars coach Marc Crawford talked about the adjustment process for the newest member of the team.

“I think it’s a couple of things, the details of how we kill penalties and the details of how we work our power play,” Crawford said. “And the other thing is acclimating himself to the new teammates, knowing how different guys play. Getting a quick read on how they play, where they want the puck and what they’re more likely to do. That’s going to keep improving the longer he is here.

“As far as the detail of the power play and penalty kill, we’re working with him on daily basis. [Assistant coach] Charlie Huddy has talked to him almost continually and we’re trying to strike that balance of not burdening him and letting him use his instincts. His instincts are terrific as you can see. We’re going to work with him and continue to shape his game into our game more so than to trying to shape him into our game.”

Notes: Richards, Grossman improving

Center Brad Richards (concussion-like symptoms) and defensemen Nicklas Grossman (hip) are both out for Saturday’s game against Nashville, but both continue to show improvement.

"Brad is getting better. He is improving. There's not much more to tell you. He won't play tomorrow," Stars coach Marc Crawford said Friday. "We're hopeful that Sunday is even a better day for him. Grossman is improving on a daily basis. I believe he’s skating today.”

Right wing Ray Sawada was activated from injured reserve Friday and assigned to the Texas Stars of the AHL. Sawada suffered a shoulder injury February 3 when he was blindsided by Boston forward Daniel Paille.

Texas Stars defenseman Philip Larsen, who has been out with a lower body injury, has been in Frisco working out and skating while Texas has been on a road trip. He said he hopes to return to action soon.

Kari Lehtonen will get the start in goal on Saturday.

Broadcast notes

Saturday’s game against Nashville will be carried by radio station KLIF 570 AM instead of The Ticket.

The Sunday March 13 Los Angeles Kings at Dallas Stars game was not picked up by NBC and will now be carried by Fox Sports Southwest. The 2:00 p.m. start time will remain the same.