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Stars Look to Build on Victory Over Wild

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Confidence can rise and fall over the course of a long season. String together some wins or go on a nice run, and confidence grows. Lose several games in a row or go on a long slide, and it can wane.

The Stars’ confidence has taken a hit during the past few weeks, but the hope is that Tuesday’s 4-0 win over the Minnesota Wild will provide a boost and help get the team back on track.

“It can definitely help,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “It’s been frustrating because we’ve had a lot of good opportunities inside a game that haven’t gone for us. We’ve started some games really well and all of a sudden a goal can go in and it’s a little bit of a letdown.”

There were no letdowns on Tuesday. The Stars were strong from start to finish. They were solid defensively, got timely saves, strong special teams play and eliminated one thing that has been especially costly during their slide.

"We didn't make the big individual mistakes, which was a big deal,” said Ruff.

All that added up to a convincing win over the Wild, and a chance to turn around that waning confidence.

“It’s huge. When you’re losing the confidence kind of goes away and you kind of forget how to play almost,” said defenseman Jordie Benn. “I think [Tuesday night] was huge and we got our confidence back. We know how to play and if we play hard we can win.”

But the Stars need more than a win here and a win there. They need to put together a good run to get back to within striking distance in the Western Conference playoff race. Tuesday’s victory pulled them to within seven points of eighth-place Minnesota. But there is still work to do.

“One’s always nice,” said Benn. “We just need to play the same way every night, and Lindy’s put together a pretty good system. If we play the way we can, hopefully we can go on a streak here.”

If the Stars are going to put together a streak on the rest of this homestand, it will come against some stiff competition. The next opponent is Toronto, which has won six straight games.

“Toronto had a tougher run than we did for about five weeks and now they are one of the hotter teams in the league,” said Ruff. “They’ve got good speed up front. They’re a good transition team. Special teams have been good for them. They’re clicking now.”

After the Maple Leafs there are more tough games ahead. Pittsburgh, the top team in the Eastern Conference, is the opponent on Saturday. Then it is Colorado, which has the sixth best record in the league. And the homestand concludes with New Jersey, which has points in seven of its last eight games and defeated St. Louis, 7-1, Tuesday night.

And the Stars are hoping Tuesday’s win over Minnesota has put them on the right track as they get ready for those tough tests.

“This is the first of a few here,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn, “and hopefully we can build off it.”

Power play clicking

The power play, a sore point for the Stars at times this season, is on a bit of a roll. It’s scored in five straight games and is 6-19 (31.6 percent) during that stretch.

"I guess they're going in the net now. That's what's working. A little bit of confidence. We feel comfortable out there,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “They just weren't going in the first half of the year. I just think we're shooting pucks and doing the right things now.”

The power play has finally picked up the pace at home. After scoring just twice in the first 16 games at American Airlines Center, it has scored eight times over the last eight games, including twice in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Minnesota.

“The entries again are clean. We’re getting in the zone. That’s a big deal,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “Then it is one or two passes and the puck is going to the net, and we’re battling for those second chances. When seams open up, we’re able to make some nice plays.”

The penalty kill has been good lately, as well. It is 8-8 over the last three games.

“With the penalty kill we’ve been more aggressive,” said Stars center Vernon Fiddler. “If you can win the special teams battle, I think that is going to help us down the stretch. That’s been one of the issues during this slide. If it isn’t the power play, we can’t stop it on the penalty kill. That’s one thing we have to focus on. Playoff teams have good special teams, and that’s what we have to be better at.”

Jeffrey on waivers

The Stars placed forward Dustin Jeffrey on waivers Wednesday. If Jeffrey clears, he likely will be assigned to the AHL after Thursday’s game against Toronto. The Stars don’t have any plans to recall a player at this point unless there is an injury.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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