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After rocky road trip, Stars must take charge of destiny at home

Dallas knows the magnitude of its next three games as a 1-3-1 stretch concludes with back-to-back shutout losses

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. -- This isn't the Stars' first rodeo.

They know where they are in the history of their franchise.

They know where they are at this point in the season.

They know what's on the line.

In a lot of ways, they were here last year.

So as they lick their wounds after a 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes that caps a 1-3-1 stretch on the road and get ready for a huge three games at home, they know that they control their destiny.

Video: Montgomery liked Stars' effort in loss to Hurricanes

Even with St. Louis on a nine-game winning streak and passing the Stars for third place in the Central Division, Dallas simply needs to be better than Minnesota, Chicago and Colorado in the final 24 games.

If they can do that and make the playoffs, the season will be a modified success.

And to tell you the truth, that's a pretty small goal for where they are.

But right now, it's not a lock. Not after this run on the road without Ben Bishop. The No. 1 goalie continues to battle a nagging injury, and fans are getting déjà vu all over again.

It was this time last season when Bishop was hurt and the Stars went through an 0-7-1 stretch that dropped them out of a playoff spot and started the wheels in motion to hire new head coach Jim Montgomery and add veteran backup goalie Anton Khudobin.

It's a fresh scar, so while this team is different than that one, it scares Stars fans. You put your heart into a team and you don't want it broken time and time again.

Video: After tough trip, Benn knows importance of homestand

Just like Kari Lehtonen last season, Khudobin isn't the reason for the past three losses, but he also wasn't good enough to prevent them.

Just like last season, more focus has to go on the goal-scorers, who were shut out for the second game in a row.

You can almost make it three shutouts on that road trip, as Dallas was getting beat 3-0 in Arizona before rallying for two late tallies. And you can certainly conjure some bad memories from last season after watching these games.

"No goals, that's the game," Stars center Tyler Seguin said of Dallas having a 73-50 advantage in shot attempts. "We dominated at times, but we can't score zero goals."

In the past 19 games, Jason Spezza has no goals and one assist. That's it. Andrew Cogliano isn't scoring. He had two golden chances Saturday and didn't convert. Mattias Janmark had 19 goals last season, he has five this campaign. Radek Faksa is behind his pace, same with Brett Ritchie. Valeri Nichushkin hasn't scored a goal in 41 games and continues to be a fairly easy choice as a healthy scratch.

It's frustrating for everyone.

Video: DAL@CAR: Khudobin robs Wallmark on breakaway

"This is the time of year where you have to bear down and put the chances in when you get them. We're not going to win if we don't score," Cogliano said. "We needed to find a way to win tonight. They're on a back-to-back, and we've got to find a way to put it in."

The Stars squandered a chance to win at Arizona, and then dug in and took a big victory against Florida. Dallas was crushed by Tampa Bay on Thursday, 6-0, and the thought was it would respond with a hearty effort against a Carolina team that beat Edmonton at home Friday.

The effort was there, but it came a little late.

The Hurricanes grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first 8:31 and then coasted after that. The Stars had 33 shots on goal, but couldn't beat Petr Mrazek. And it was a team effort. The depth scorers didn't score, the top scorers didn't score.

Jamie Benn, Seguin and Alexander Radulov were on the ice for the two goals against and finished minus-2 each.

"It's difficult for us to come from behind, it's been proven all year," Montgomery said. "So any time we fall behind, it's not a good situation for us.

Video: Seguin on Stars' struggles to find offense on road

"It was an opportunity for our big line to step up, and unfortunately they got scored against twice in the first period."

Added Seguin: "Our line, two turnovers, and two goals. A team like this makes you pay."

The Stars say they know their identity and will try to get back to it Tuesday. They are a good defensive team that has to find a way to score hard goals and get big saves.

Bottom line, teams have to find a way to win -- any way to win -- and the Stars say they know what to do.

They just have to do it.

Dallas sinks back into the swamp, and while they come home for three games, they'll face the Predators, the Blues and the Hurricanes again. That's a pretty big test. After that, they go back for four on the road, where they are 11-16-3.

Video: DAL Recap: Stars fail to find the net in 3-0 loss

This is where their season unraveled last year. This is where they have to prove they have learned.

And nobody can do that but them.

Maybe they get some help before the Feb. 25 trade deadline, maybe they don't. Maybe other teams fade, maybe they don't. But they know where they are as a team, they know where they are as a franchise, they know what's at stake.

"I like the way we're playing, and I think our team is going to make the playoffs," Montgomery said confidently. "We're playing consistently hard, we're playing together, and we're playing for each other. When teams do that, they continue to get better, and they climb the standings."

That is their challenge -- and that is their opportunity.

Right now.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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