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Stars finding success with calmer approach

Avoiding 'home runs,' sticking to game plan has led to climb in standings

by Tracey Myers @TraMyers_NHL / Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- The Dallas Stars hurriedly packed their things Thursday night as they tried to get out of town ahead of a snowstorm descending on Chicago. In that case, being in a rush was a good idea.

On the ice, the Stars have gotten away from that approach, playing a calmer game, especially on the road. And it's put them in good shape in the Central Division race.

The Stars' 4-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday was their fourth straight and gave them 68 points, one behind the St. Louis Blues for third in the Central. They have the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference, four points ahead of the Minnesota Wild, who have the second wild card.

They play the Pittsburgh Penguins at American Airlines Center on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET; SN1, FS-SW, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).

The Stars' win Thursday was their 32nd, two shy of their total for last season (34), when injuries and inconsistent play plagued them. Now they continue to gain points this season as much as they do belief in what they're accomplishing.

"Confidence, that's what it boils down to," defenseman Stephen Johns said. "We're sticking together as a unit this year and having confidence, not only in ourselves but each other to get the job done. That's huge. When you have that confidence and believe in the guy next to you, it makes everyone's job a lot easier."

Improved health is another reason for the Stars' success. They have 78 man-games lost this season, compared to 338 last season. They've also been strong defensively, and acquiring goaltender Ben Bishop (23-14-3, 2.43 goals-against average) in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings shored up that position. After giving up 3.17 goals per game in 2016-17, second-most in the NHL, the Stars are allowing 2.55 per game this season, fifth-fewest. And when they take a lead entering the third period, they're not losing it; they're 27-1-1 when ahead after two periods.

Video: NYR@DAL: Bishop robs Zuccarello with sliding pad stop

The Stars also have been outstanding on the road. They're 10-3-2 in their past 15 away games after going 3-8-1 in their first 12. Coach Ken Hitchcock said the Stars let deficits affect them earlier this season, but now they're keeping their composure.

"The one thing was earlier in the year, we tried to hit home runs," he said. "We'd get down a goal and try to hit home runs. We've managed the puck better. We've had confidence the game is 2 1/2 hours long, not 20 minutes long. We've calmed down. We continually stay on the program for longer periods of time. We control the hockey game in a good way that way. When we get out of sync it's because we're trying to swing for the fences. It didn't end well at the start of the year."

Bishop, who made 37 saves Thursday, said the Stars aren't shaken easily away from home.

"Nobody's really worried," he said. "This is a veteran team in here. There aren't many young guys, and there are a lot of road games between everybody, so nobody's really worried about it."

It took some time for the Stars to figure things out this season but they're working like a cohesive unit now. Even on nights when they're not playing their best, as several of them said about their game Thursday, they're finding ways to win. They're staying calm. And they're gaining confidence.

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