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Stars' penalty kill looks to extend success

by Steve Hunt
DALLAS -- Over the last eight games, the Dallas Stars' penalty kill has been rock solid, denying 20 of 22 opportunities for a success rate of 91 percent. The Stars are 4-2-2 over that span and in their last two contests, that same unit has been a perfect 5-for-5 on the kill.

That group's current success is a big source of pride for Dallas coach Marc Crawford.

"You have to be strong on your special teams. Here lately, our penalty kill has been doing a great job for us. It's kept us in a lot of games," Crawford said. "If our power play could compensate the other way, then it's such a big bonus for you right now."

The Stars could also get a boost Wednesday from the likely return of All-Star winger Loui Eriksson. He has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury.

"Loui's looking pretty good. He skated this morning," Crawford said. "All signs are pointing toward the fact that he'll play."

When asked why his PK has been so good over the last few weeks, Crawford offered a simple response about what factors have contributed to that success.

"Penalty kill is awareness. It's commitment to blocked shots. It's being in lanes. It's just doing a lot of real grunt work," he said. "We've had a lot of guys who have stepped up in that regard."

Two players he's referring to in particular are centers Toby Petersen and Tom Wandell, both key components of the penalty-killing group.

"We've had our ups and downs this year but lately, we've really buckled down," Petersen said. "I really think it all starts with goaltending and as forwards and defensemen, trying to make his job as easy as we can by letting him see pucks and taking away those back door plays. I don't know exactly why some things weren't working before and now they are. I'd like to say it's because of preparation and a lot of dedication from the guys that are on the ice."

Wandell offered a different reason for the unit's current run of good form.

"I think the forecheck first of all is really good. When the forecheck is good, it's easier to defend," the Dallas center said. "We put pressure on them harder and guys are doing it as a unit, not just one guy. It's good for everyone and everyone does the right thing."

However, that unit will be put to the test against an Anaheim power play that comes off a 2-for-3 performance in a 5-4 win over Calgary on Sunday. The Ducks are 5-for-15 this year on the power play against the Stars.

"It'll be a huge challenge tonight. These guys have got a great power play," Crawford said. "They've scored a couple of big goals lately on the power play-four in the last five games."

One key to slowing down Anaheim with the man advantage is playing with that same desperation the Dallas penalty kill has used to its advantage for much of the season.

"We've had a lot of desperation on our penalty kill all year," Petersen said. "It may not always show in the statistics. We got off to a slow start. There were some ugly goals early on where there were some bad bounces, bouncing off guys in front and stuff like that. So we've had desperation ever since then because we've wanted to right the ship and get things in the right direction. These games are certainly important, and we understand how important the penalty kill is every night. We're obviously buckling down, but that's been the case all year."

Dallas is just 1-2-1 this year against Anaheim, splitting a pair of games against the Ducks at the American Airlines Center. These clubs are currently tied for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 85 points, so the Stars know they're in for another tough game.

"We're going to have another battle tonight. I think our guys are very upbeat today and that's a great sign," Crawford said. "There's lots of energy in and around the room. We've played so many games in such a short period of time. Getting a couple of days off seems to have rejuvenated everybody and that's what you need at this time of year."
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