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Goal Simple for Stars in Initial Western Canada Trip of Season

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

Even though their four-game winning streak ended in Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Dallas Stars still got a point out of the loss to the Pens and now head out on their first trip of the season through Western Canada looking to further improve their spot in the Western Conference Standings. The Stars are currently eighth with 71 points and are 33-26-5 this season.

On Friday night, the three-game trip starts in Edmonton and even though the Oilers are currently have the second-worst record in the West, Stars first-year head coach Glen Gulutzan isn’t about to take the Oilers lightly.

“We see Edmonton as a good hockey club too. They’re young, they’re fast and they’re exciting,” Gulutzan said. “We’re not too worried about our opponent. We are worried about how we’re playing and how we have to approach every day. Whether it’s Edmonton or Vancouver, it doesn’t matter. We have to play a certain way to get points. We have to play that way every night or we’re average at times.”

Dallas is 2-0-0 against Edmonton so far this year, having beaten the Oilers twice at American Airlines Center, both by identical 4-1 score lines. The first win came on Nov. 21, 2011 and the other on Jan. 7.

The Oilers last played on Wednesday, losing 5-2 to the Blues and won’t play again until hosting the Stars at Rexall Place on Friday. For the season, Edmonton is 16-12-4 at home and 4-5-1 over their last 10 games.

Stars No. 1 goaltender Kari Lehtonen will be between the pipes for Friday’s game and the Finnish-born netminder could also appear in the other two games of the trip, on Sunday in Calgary and Tuesday in Vancouver should circumstances present themselves.

“For sure he’s going to go in Edmonton and then we’ll take it day-by-day. But chances are depending on how he feels and how he plays, he could go quite a bit,” Gulutzan said.

The Stars have also faced the Flames and Canucks once already this season and have 3-2 overtime wins over both clubs. Dallas beat Calgary on Feb. 16 while they handed Vancouver a similar defeat on Feb. 26.

But no matter who they’re facing, Gulutzan’s players know the formula for success is a simple one, no matter whether they hit the rink in the Lone Star State or in Western Canada.

“We need to keep playing the way we do. I think we are playing good right now,” rookie defenseman Philip Larsen said. “There’s not many games left. We have to keep it going, keep trying to win games and play for each other.”

And the young Danish blueliner has no illusions about how tough this three-game trek could prove to be.

“It’s going to be a big challenge to go up there. I think it’s good for us to go up there, take that big challenge and see if we can get some points. It’s that time of year where it’s really important. Everybody’s really battling for the points and for playoff spots,” Larsen said. “It’s just a matter of who wants it the most. Pretty sure our team, we want it pretty bad so we’re going to go after it.”

Stars All-Star center Jamie Benn hails from British Columbia, so anytime he gets to venture towards home, especially to Vancouver, where he always hits the ice in front of countless friends and family, it’s definitely a big deal.

“It’s fun. Whenever you get a chance to play in Canada, you’re going to have fun,” Benn said. “We’ve got a lot of Canadian guys. Those are the exciting games that you get to play. And for me to get to go back to Vancouver I definitely look forward to it every year. Playing in front of friends and family is always cool.”

And even though this weekend will mark the Stars’ first trip to Western Canada this year, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver are three destinations the Stars players are very familiar with.

“It’s going be a tough road trip coming up here. We know where we’re at and we need the two points starting with Edmonton there,” Stars winger Loui Eriksson said. “We know what we need to do. We need to win games.”

Even their head coach will admit there is something special about taking to the ice in a part of the world where it’s clear that hockey is king.

“When you get up there it’s Hockey Country. You’re immersed in it. It’s all over TV, the paper and it’s on the street. You can feel a buzz in the air and the buildings are full,” Gulutzan said. “It has a playoff bite to it. It’s a good place to get on a playoff run for sure.”

Dallas will head out on this trip healthy for the most part, except for Jake Dowell and captain Brenden Morrow, both of whom are currently sidelined with upper-body injuries. However, Morrow did skate with his several of his teammates on Thursday morning, his first such skate in three weeks.

“So far no pain, I guess that’s a good sign,” Morrow said. “It [my recovery] hasn’t been fun, just a real strict core regimen to help stabilize the spine and try and relieve some of the pressure on certain joints that were causing me some problems. It hasn’t been fun but the guys are playing well and that makes it a lot easier.”

But afterward, No. 10 admitted he is at least one week away from being ready to return.

“This was first skate in three weeks. I’m nowhere near game shape. It’s probably going to be a week or so before I’m in any action,” Morrow said.

Once the Edmonton game is in the books, the Stars will venture across Alberta to Calgary to face the Flames on Sunday. Calgary will travel to Phoenix on Thursday and Anaheim on Friday in a tough back-to-back before returning to the Saddledome for Sunday’s affair with the Stars.

As for Vancouver, they host St. Louis on Thursday and will then host Buffalo on Saturday. Then, the Canucks will have a full three days to prepare for Tuesday’s visit from the Stars, the same team that beat them in overtime last Sunday at American Airlines Center.

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