After picking up seven of a possible 10 points on their five-game homestand, the Dallas Stars now hit the road for their final trip prior to the Olympic break.
“It’s going to be a huge trip,” said Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen. “They are three really good teams and they are all ahead of us. We have to beat them if we want to get up there (in the standings).”
The Stars play at Anaheim (Saturday), Phoenix (Tuesday) and San Jose (Wednesday). They then return home for their final game before the break, taking on Phoenix at American Airlines Center.
The Stars are looking to make a good run up to the break to put them in a better position as far as the playoff race. There will be just 24 games left in the season after the break, so they want to gain ground in the race.
“We’ve got our final push before the break and we just want to focus on what’s ahead of us.” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “We’ve got to play some good teams and we’re going into their buildings. It’s not going to be easy, and then we come home for one. We’ll take it one game at a time, but if we can play .750 hockey (win three of four), we’ll get back up in the standings.”
First up will be Anaheim, which has the best record in the league at 40-11-5 and is an impressive 22-2-2 at home. The Stars and Ducks have played twice already with each team winning at home by a 6-3 score.
“We got off to a great start in Anaheim and let it slip away. It was a tight game here that we blew open late,” said Ruff. “They’ve got excellent speed, they’ve got a backend that joins. It’s a four man attack and their big boys up front (Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry) are having a heck of a year.”
The two games against Phoenix will be huge. The Stars sit 10th in the West, six points out of a playoff spot after Thursday’s games. The Coyotes are ninth, three points ahead of the Stars. Before they can get to eighth, the Stars have to get past Phoenix in the standings.
“Every game is big, but especially now it keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Lehtonen. “We’ve been kind of staying at the same spot for a while now, so it’s time for us to make a move and start winning games.”
Fathers of several of the players and some of the team’s staff will join the Stars for the Phoenix and San Jose legs of the upcoming road trip.
“It’s a great bonding time,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “It’s an appreciation time for the fathers, who put the time in with their sons as they grew up and the long hours they put in with them. It’s a chance for the sons to show their dads off a little bit. It gives the dads a great feeling of what their sons are going through, getting up the next day from traveling the night before, practice and play that next day and that pressure they are under. It’s a chance to thank the dads for the time they put in, and a chance to see the life their sons live now.”
Stars center Shawn Horcoff experienced some dads’ trips when he was with the Edmonton Oilers, and said his dad is a big fan.
“When I told him we had one he was ecstatic. He loves these things,” Horcoff said. “When I was in Edmonton we had a dads’ trip and a moms’ trip, too. It’s kind of nice for them to go through and experience what we live day to day. They wanted to see their sons in the NHL and then to get to see what goes on a little more closely, it’s a big deal for them.”
Nineteen players will have fathers on the trip. The dads arrive in Phoenix on Sunday and the first event will be a Super Bowl watching party that evening.
The Stars held an optional practice Friday morning in Frisco. There were just a few players on the ice. Forwards Valeri Nichushkin, Alex Chiasson and Dustin Jeffrey, defenseman Kevin Connauton and goaltenders Kari Lehtonen and Dan Ellis took part in the skate.
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