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Getting Back To Work

by Dallas Stars Staff / Dallas Stars

Stephane Robidas was actually ready to come back last week. The Stars defenseman finished up his vacation last Saturday, and was more than willing to start getting back to practice and games.

He at least waited until Wednesday to start skating again, and when the Stars had their first post-Olympic practice on Friday he and his teammates (minus the Olympians, of course,) definitely looked like they were ready for the stretch run.

“It felt like the first day of training camp,” said Robidas. “Everybody’s happy to see each other. After almost two weeks, it’s good to be back at work and good to be skating and doing something we all love doing.”

While the Stars’ four Olympic representatives (Brenden Morrow, Jere Lehtinen, Loui Eriksson and Karlis Skrastins) will filter back next week, the rest of the Stars took part in an hour-plus practice Friday at their Frisco facility. The Stars are now prepping for the best time of the year, the stretch run to the playoffs. And it doesn’t hurt that they entered the Olympic break playing great hockey.

The Stars are 9-4-1 in their last 14 games, including points in four straight games entering the break (3-0-1). The Stars’ strong pre-break finish was highlighted not only by Mike Ribeiro’s return from a scary throat injury that required an emergency tracheotomy, but also the fact that the team went 2-0-1 in those last three games – all on the road, which had been a bad place for them so often this season.

“We played solid right before the break, and it’s important that we start off again the same way,” said Ribeiro, who said it helped him to get those pre-break games in, especially mentally. “We were just playing better before the break, and now we know how we can play. We just have to play the same way.”

Everyone was glad to get the legs going again. But for some individuals, there were specific reasons to be happy. For defenseman Mark Fistric, it was being healthy again after arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this month. The same went for center Steve Ott, who underwent an emergency appendectomy at the beginning of February.

“Missing three games was disappointing, but if would’ve been this week I could’ve missed 10,” Ott said. “But team picked up five of six points in those games, so that made them easier to watch. Marty (Turco) has been extremely solid for us, so when you give a team to chance to win it gives us confidence. It seemed to all be clicking. All the guys gelled together.”

Indeed, Turco’s resurgence was a big part of the Stars’ pre-break boost. Scheduled to start on Tuesday when the Stars host the Los Angeles Kings, Turco was out there on Friday getting back into form.

“We had a good finish, especially on the road into the break, and we have to come out producing like that out of the break. It’s just imperative,” Turco said. “No team’s going to go into the tank, or at least you assume not.”

Backup goaltender Kari Lehtonen was at the other end, taking part in his first Stars’ practice. The 26-year-old said he’s ready for the challenge and his new squad.

“Anything I get I’ll be happy. I’m just excited to do my best,” said Lehtonen, who said his back is feeling good right now. “I do some things before I go on the ice to keep the back warm and flexible. But it’s no problem on the ice.”

Coach Marc Crawford said the Olympic break came at a good time for the Stars.

“Even though we were playing well, I think we’ll benefit from the rest that was provided, especially guys like Robidas and (Mike) Modano,” Crawford said. “There were guys who were clearly fatigued down the stretch. Our goalie is playing very well and we’re getting some timely scoring. We’re going to be refreshed, and hopefully their confidence is boosted.”

The refreshed part is key, because the Stars will be one busy team when the NHL schedule resumes. They play 16 games in March, which ties a club record. They’ll play 18 games over a 33-day span, with no more than one day between two games.

The Stars definitely have their energy back. They’re also hoping to get back the momentum they gained before their two-week respite.

“You want to relax and rejuvenate, but it’s nice to have the confidence and smiles as well,” Ott said. “You never want to go into a break on a downer losing streak because you’re always thinking about it. And you’re thinking negative instead of positive. You can come into the next games with confidence, and hopefully we’ll take off and continue to roll.”

They should be confident. They’re getting healthy again, they’re excited to be practicing again and they’re in the playoff hunt again.

“Marty’s been sharp and we’ll get a chance to see Kari before too long. We’re getting people back (Ott, Fistric and Brian Sutherby) and it’s going to be positive for us,” Crawford said. “Even in the case of Mike Ribeiro, who gave us a push there (at the break). He was able to get a break and hopefully he’ll be even more effective than when he first came back before the break. Overall, we’re really poised to make a great push."

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