"Normal" is a pretty foreign word for the Stars this season.
There have been slumps and firings and Winter Classics and TV crews and visits from families -- and pretty much everything you could squeeze into one crazy half-season. So on Thursday, the team tried to go through a normal practice in order to get ready for a normal game Friday against the Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m. CT; FS-SW; ESPN+; KTCK).
"It's a great thing, a great thing. I love it," said defenseman Roman Polak of the return to the everday mundane. "You can have the same preparation and get into your routine. Let's focus on our game, focus on the upcoming game, and we're going to be just fine."
Polak wasn't alone in his sentiment. Interim coach Rick Bowness also said he enjoyed having a regular workout with no extra cameras, no microphones, and no distractions.
[GAME DAY GUIDE: What you need to know before the Stars face the Red Wings]
Bowness has stressed routine during his coaching career, preferring to stick to some old-school procedures. And while he really enjoyed holding the first outdoor game in Texas before the second-largest crowd to ever see an NHL game at Cotton Bowl Stadium, he also was pretty pleased with a nice boring practice in Frisco.
"It's good," Bowness said. "As phenomenal as an event as that was -- great for the organization, great for the city -- we're just not used to having cameras in the room all of the time, microphones all of the time, so it's back to normal."
The timing of the Winter Classic is intriguing in that it also was the 41st game of the season, marking the midpoint for the Stars. So in addition to soaking up the energy from that event, the team also can look back at the first half and ponder lessons learned.
"We've been through 41 games, and it seems like we've been through 100," said forward Andrew Cogliano of the tumultuous season. "But I think everyone has done a really good job. It's probably a good thing that we have a few older guys, that probably helps keep the team calm, and I think the coaches have done a great job. They deserve a lot of credit."
Video: NSH@DAL: Bowness on emotions of Winter Classic win
When Jim Montgomery was fired Dec. 10, it created a domino effect.
Bowness went from running the defensemen to running the forwards and the entire team. John Stevens went from helping with forwards and doing a lot of game preparation to running the defense. Derek Laxdal came up from being head coach of the Texas Stars and now is a big part of power-play preparation and working with the forwards. And Todd Nelson has expanded his responsibilities by giving an eye-in-the-sky view during games and filling in holes that were created by other coaches moving.
It's been an adjustment.
Mix in the Winter Classic and the distractions of additional television coverage of the team, and there has been a strange vibe for the past three weeks. That should change going forward.
On Thursday, Polak said a big discussion should be why the team has needed big third-period comebacks in the past three games. Dallas leads the NHL with seven third-period comebacks this season, and that can be both good and bad.
"Why do we have to come back every time?" Polak asked. "Let's win the game in the first period and control it. It takes less energy, less energy from the top guys if we're not chasing the game. I don't think it will help us down the road if we continue like this.
"If we fix it, then I think we will be much fresher at the end of the year."
Video: Relive the Stars' Winter Classic win in 60 seconds
And the Stars definitely want to be doing something important at the end of the year. They currently sit 23-14-4 with 50 points. That's safely in a playoff spot for right now, but a lot can change in the NHL. The Stars know that because they have seen the ups and downs already.
"We're in a good position, but we've got room to improve," said captain Jamie Benn. "We know who we are and what we can do, and it's on us every day to keep improving and get results."
The challenges are going to be there both mentally and physically. The Stars could have a mental letdown after the Winter Classic, and they're facing a Red Wings team that ranks last in record (10-28-3), goals for (2.17) and goals against (3.80). Of course, that same team beat the Stars in Detroit on Oct. 6, 4-3.
"They beat us before," Bowness said. "Something like that shows you that you better pay attention to details and you better be ready to execute, because they can burn you. They burned us."
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And the Stars want to learn from their previous mistakes.
"We're in a playoff spot right now, but we also recognize we have to keep getting better every day," Bowness said. "You're going into that second half and games get tougher and tougher. We're in a good spot, but it doesn't mean anything.
"We have to keep getting better."
Because that's the "normal" challenge in this league.
Stars (23-14-4) vs. Red Wings (10-28-3)
Friday, 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: American Airlines Center
TV: FOX Sports Southwest; ESPN+
Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM
Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Detroit Red Wings at American Airlines Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets 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, and listen to his podcast.