Wednesday, March 23, 2011
It's crunch time in the playoff race
By Mark Stepneski
Every game is big for the Dallas Stars right now, but coach Marc Crawford acknowledged the special significance of Wednesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks at American Airlines Center.
“It doesn’t get much bigger than this,” Crawford said.
The Stars and Ducks are tied at 85 points in the standings and have played the same number of games. The Ducks are currently in eighth and final playoff spot and the Stars are in ninth because Anaheim has the edge in the regulation and overtime wins tiebreaker, 36-33.
Neither team will clinch a playoff spot on Wednesday, but it is chance to grab two points and take away points from a team in the tight Western Conference playoff race. Both teams have ten games left and after Wednesday's tilt one will hold an advantage with nine to go.
“We’re looking for a real intense game,” said Crawford. “It will be a playoff like atmosphere.”
Wednesday’s game is just one in a stretch of games the Stars will play against other teams in the playoff race. They play at Nashville, currently in sixth place and three points ahead of them, on Saturday. After that there are road games against all four of the teams in the Pacific Division.
“It has really tightened, we all know that and everyone that follows hockey knows that. It’s going to be a grind, those last games going into the playoffs. We have to make sure we are well prepared,” said Stars defenseman Mark Fistric. “I think that we feel good because we kind of control our own fate. We’ve got a lot of divisional games coming up and we know our road trip is huge for us, but we’ve got to take it one game at a time. We have to focus on Wednesday and winning that game.”
Wednesday’s game will wrap up a seven-game homestand for the Stars, who have gone 2-2-2 in the first six games. Crawford likes the way the Stars have played lately; noting the that the team is 7-2-3 in its last 12 games and has been in every game, even the ones it didn’t win.
“We’ve lost a couple, but we haven’t had a down game. We’ve executed at a real high level. We have to continue to keep doing that," said Crawford. "We’re not the only ones doing that. We’re playing at an over .700 clip (7-2-3/.708) and yet we’re still in the heat of the race. Usually you have that kind of output you increase your standing, but everybody else has played well too. We just have to put our best foot forward [Wednesday] and play an intense game.”
And find a way to get the two points.
Defenseman Brad Lukowich cleared re-entry waivers Tuesday and was recalled from the AHL by the Dallas Stars Tuesday.
Lukowich, who will help fill the void due to injuries to Nicklas Grossman and Karlis Skrastins, practiced with the team at American Airlines Center Tuesday morning.
“I’ve been around and I’ve been in these situations before,” Lukowich said. I came into New Jersey like this a couple of years ago where they needed a guy to come in and fill a hole for a while and I wound up playing into the playoffs. That’s the plan: just come in, take it day by day and goes as hard as I can every day I am on the ice.”
Injury update: Grossman has sprained MCL
Stars defenseman Nicklas Grossman has a sprained MCL and will be “out for a bit,” said Stars coach Marc Crawford. There’s no definitive timetable on a return for Grossman, who was injured in Saturday’s game against Philadelphia.
Defenseman Karlis Skrastins, who was cut on his thigh by a skate in the Philadelphia game, did not practice Tuesday and is listed as doubtful for Wednesday. Crawford said Skrastins could return by this weekend.
Forward Loui Eriksson, who has missed two games because of concussion-like symptoms, went through a full practice on Tuesday. He is day-to-day, according to Crawford.
“Loui looks like he is heading in the right direction,” said Crawford. “Again, we want to be cautious with that. It's a day to day thing and we'll see where he is Wednesday.”
Forwards Adam Burish (leg) and Brian Sutherby (back spasms) are both out for Wednesday.