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Stars staying positive despite Game 7 disappointment

With potent scorers returning, Dallas hopes to build on strong regular season

by Steve Hunt / NHL.com Correspondent

FRISCO, Texas -- It was almost as if the Dallas Stars played two different seasons in 2015-16. For all of their regular-season success, their Stanley Cup Playoff run ended in disappointment against the St. Louis Blues in a seven-game Western Conference Second Round loss.

In the regular season, Dallas won the Central Division and had the best record in the Western Conference. It was the Stars' first division title since 2006, the last time they earned the top seed in the conference.

The Stars scored an NHL-best 267 goals, captain Jamie Benn leading the way with 41 goals and 89 points. Tyler Seguin had 73 points before a late-season Achilles injury and a calf injury limited him to one game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Jason Spezza had 63.

Coach Lindy Ruff successfully utilized the goaltender tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, allocating their starts on almost a 50-50 basis, and each veteran played well.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm6: Lehtonen's late saves ensure Stars' win

The Stars also won a playoff series for the first time since 2008, eliminating the Minnesota Wild in six games in the first round. However, with Seguin out, Benn and Spezza struggled for much of the second round and the Stars couldn't score. The Blues chased Lehtonen in two games and Niemi in another.

St. Louis won 6-1 in Game 7 on Wednesday to advance to its first conference final since 2001.

Ruff sounds like he has already put it behind him.

"I'm a big fan of living in the present," Ruff said Friday at breakup day. "Game 7 was our best chance of moving on and winning the Cup and I think you always have to stay in the present."

WHAT THEY SAID: "He got the royal treatment. He got double-teamed. Sometimes he got a five-man collapse. What Jamie saw is what you would expect to see from a good team. Their defense came off the bench every time that he was on the ice. Were we able to take advantage of it? At times we were, but at times I thought we let them off the hook." -- Ruff on how the Blues keyed on Benn

THE BURNING QUESTION: Do the Stars stick with Lehtonen and Niemi? They are under contract for two more seasons and have a combined NHL salary-cap charge of $10.4 million per season, according to generalfanager.com.

Video: Seguin answers questions from the media

INJURIES: Seguin is rehabbing from the calf injury he sustained in Game 2 of the first round but is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. He missed the final 10 games of the regular season and Game 1 against the Wild with a partially cut Achilles.

Forward Patrick Sharp, fifth on Dallas this season with 55 points, sustained a separated shoulder against Blues but will not need surgery. Sharp had six points in the playoffs, two against the Blues.

Forward Antoine Roussel, who scored two goals in the postseason, was battling an abdominal issue throughout the playoffs.

Veteran forward Travis Moen sustained a wrist injury late in the series with the Blues and was in a cast.

WHO COULD GO: Dallas has eight unrestricted free agents: Forwards Patrick Eaves, Vernon Fiddler, Moen and Colton Sceviour are unrestricted along with defensemen Jordie Benn, Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski and Kris Russell.

The Stars also have three restricted free agents: forwards Valeri Nichushkin and Brett Ritchie and defenseman Jamie Oleksiak.

Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Eaves slips one by Elliott backdoor

WHO COULD ARRIVE: Several forwards with NHL experience could become regulars next season. Center Jason Dickinson, who scored in his NHL debut before being sent back to the American Hockey League, is one possibility. Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie, who each played one playoff game, could stick next season.

Forward Devin Shore, who played three NHL games before returning to the AHL, where he sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in December, is another player to watch. Dallas signed Russian forward Denis Gurianov, its first-round pick (No. 15) in the 2015 NHL Draft, this week. Gurianov will play next season in North America, but it remains to be seen whether that will be in the AHL or NHL.

Depending on what course the Stars take with Demers, Goligoski and Russell, Dallas could use at least one additional big, physical defenseman. With Eaves and/or Fiddler potentially not returning, the Stars might need another role player or two on their third and fourth lines. 

Video: Jamie Benn motivates Stars during OT battle

2016 DRAFT PICKS: The Stars have one pick each in the first (No. 25), fourth, fifth and sixth rounds. Dallas traded its second-round pick to the Calgary Flames in the Feb. 29 deal for Russell. The Stars traded their third-round pick to the Buffalo Sabres in February 2015 in a deal involving goaltender Jhonas Enroth.  

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The Stars have two of the NHL's top offensive players, Benn and Seguin, and they are ably supported from Spezza, Sharp and John Klingberg, fifth among NHL defensemen with 57 points this season.

Those players figure into the Stars' mix of youth and experience, part of the reason general manager Jim Nill feels good about where the organization is headed.

"Our season overall, it was a great season," Nill said. "We win our division, we win our conference. We go through a lot of adversity in March with injuries. We got to get better and we're going to get better, but the future's very bright for the Dallas Stars."

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