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Business trip: Matchups with Panthers, Lightning loom large for Stars

Dallas opens a five-game road trip trying to snap its winless skid and make up ground in the division race

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

This should be an important week for the Stars.

Not only is the team coming off a weeklong break from games caused by the winter storms in Texas, they are now eight postponed games behind their scheduled pace, they are heading out on a five-game road trip against the best teams in the Central Division, and they are trying to break a five-game winless streak.

When the Stars play at Florida on Monday, they will be playing their first game since Feb. 13 and seeking their first win since Feb. 2. After three games against the 10-2-2 Panthers, they will then have two games against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who currently sit 10-3-1.

"Both teams have played really well," said Stars defenseman Esa Lindell. "They are on a hot start, so that's a really good challenge for us, and we're excited to play against them to see how good we can play."

Dallas is 5-3-4 this year. It has posted solid possession numbers and is among the best teams in the league in creating scoring chances (second at 54.84 in scoring chances for percentage according to Natural Stat Trick). However, special teams play has broken down and the Stars have not been able to come up with key plays either late in games or in overtime.

"I think we've played inconsistent, and that's caused lost games for us," said Lindell. "There have been good moments and then some bad. I think penalties have been taking that away from us, and the (penalty kill) hasn't been good enough. When we don't take penalties, we've been a good 5-on-5 team, and that helps us to get the wins."

Video: Bowness on what makes Panthers 'one of the top teams'

And so the Stars have to find a way to eliminate the bad and improve the good. It's a common battle, and one the Stars have been through before.

"We've been talking about this before where there is going to be momentum shifts within the game where they have a couple of strong shifts and we have to lock down in the D-zone and that's something that we're good at," said defenseman John Klingberg.

"We're strong in that we are creating, but a lot of our shots are to the outside right now. When we have the puck and we're able to make a play, we need to make the play."

While Joe Pavelski added: "We're doing a lot of good things and playing a lot of good hockey and we've got to tighten up and we need to make an extra play at some point and get this down and get over this hump. I believe we can turn the corner pretty soon."

Now would be a good time. The Panthers have been playing great hockey, and gaining a great deal of confidence because of it. So the Stars could not only gain their own confidence by beating Florida, but also maybe chip into the happy thoughts of one of their Central Division bunkmates.

"They're feeling it," said Stars coach Rick Bowness. "They're a very good team. They're dangerous offensively and they've tightened things up defensively. They're playing great hockey right now."

And while the Stars don't want to get too far ahead of themselves, they also have that rematch with the Lightning coming up. Tampa Bay beat the Stars in six games in the Stanley Cup Final last season, and that has created a huge rivalry. With both teams playing in the same division this season, the intensity is going to be huge.

Video: Open Ice | Stars hungrier than ever to capture Cup

There have been four games postponed between the two teams, and a feeling of false starts hangs in the air, so finally meeting will also be a big part of this road trip.

"It's going to be fun, it's going to be intense," said captain Jamie Benn. "Obviously, they took something from us that we were working hard to get. Another new rivalry for us, but looking forward to it."

The Stars have posted big signs in their workout room that say: "We will not be defined by losing the Stanley Cup Final … We will be defined by how we respond … We want more … We have work to do." But just as this season has had so many stops and starts, the process in getting that work accomplished has been a little, well, "inconsistent."

So now, after another week off, and the specter of being eight games behind their scheduled pace of play, and trying to get back on the winning track, the Stars will head to Florida to confront any number of hurdles. Their plan is to attack one step at a time.

"We've got to get back into the game routine," Bowness said. "Right now, we need to play and get some games under our feet again. We're basically starting all over and we have to get back in the battle.

"Clearly, with the eight games (postponed), we're behind a lot of teams in our division, and it's going to take some time to close that gap. But that's fine, we just have to peck away at it. That's what our plan is."


Stars at Panthers

Monday, 6 p.m. CT

BB&T Center, Sunrise, Fla.

TV: FOX Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM

Photo credit: Jeff Toates/Dallas Stars

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 and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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