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Stars Prepped for Four-Game Road Swing

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

Having won two of the three games on their recent homestand, a run of games at the American Airlines Center that concluded with Friday night’s heart stopping 7-6 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche, the Dallas Stars now hit the road for the next week, a four-game trek that will see them face three foes from the Eastern Conference and wrap it up with an opponent they’re more than a little familiar with.

The trip starts on Sunday in Carolina. Then it’s up to Washington on Tuesday before traveling to Pittsburgh for a Friday night meeting with the Penguins, a game that could mark the return of Sidney Crosby before wrapping up the trip on Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena against Detroit in the second night of a back-to-back, Dallas’ second of the young season.

Dallas returns home on Tuesday night to host Florida at the AAC, a game where Stars captain Brenden Morrow will be honored with his very own bobblehead. But before they can even think about the Panthers, they need to get through this four-game road trip in productive fashion.

“It’s going to be a real tough road trip,” Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan said. “Look at Carolina, I think they lost tonight to Washington [Friday]. You’ve got that [Alexander] Ovechkin sitting in Washington on Tuesday, so that will be interesting. Maybe [Sidney] Crosby’s coming back on Friday and then we got Detroit. They’re struggling right now so we could be going into a hornet’s nest but it will be a good character test for us.”

The Stars faced the Hurricanes twice last season, beating them both times. Carolina is currently 5-5-3 with 13 points, which puts them in fourth place in the Southeast Division. They are just 8-for-60 on the power play this year, which means the effective Dallas penalty kill could bolster their numbers a bit come Sunday afternoon.

But there is at least one Carolina player Dallas has to be aware of and that’s reigning Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner, who leads the club with 13 points (6-7-13). Skinner is showing no signs of a sophomore slump and has been a big reason why the Canes have managed to win five games thus far.

However, the road only gets tougher from there. After the Hurricanes, the Stars head to the nation’s capital to face the Capitals, who currently lead the Southeast Division with a 9-2-0 record and 18 points. Washington handed Carolina a 5-1 defeat in Raleigh on Friday night and with an offense featuring the likes of Nicklas Backstrom (5-11-16), Alexander Ovechkin (5-7-12) and Dennis Wideman (3-7-10), this will be a big challenge for the Dallas defense.

The Caps are also a perfect 6-0-0 on their home ice so far this season. But the Stars did hand Washington a 2-1 defeat in Dallas last December and while Bruce Boudreau’s group is very talented, they are definitely beatable.

One reason for Dallas having a 9-3-0 record through their first 12 games has been the strong play on both ends from veteran blue liner Sheldon Souray, who is currently tied for third on the team with nine points.

“I’m happy to be part of this team right now and moving forward with these guys,” Souray said after the win over the Avs. “We showed a lot of what we were made of tonight [Friday]. That’s not just a one-night thing. That’s our makeup for the year. It’s a fun group to be part of.”

Then, the Stars head to the Steel City, where they will face another first-place team in the Pens, who are currently atop the Atlantic Division standings with a mark of 8-3-3 and 19 points. Of course, it will be their first time to face ex-Dallas players James Neal, who currently leads Pittsburgh with 13 points (9-4-13) and former Stars defenseman Matt Niskanen, both of whom were dealt to Dan Bylsma’s team for Alex Goligoski right before last season’s trade deadline.

This will also mark Goligoski’s first game against the Pens since the trade. Dallas did beat these same Penguins by a 5-2 score last November in Dallas but their last trek to the Keystone State on March 6, 2010 ended in a 6-3 loss at the hands of Crosby and company. Besides Neal, Pittsburgh is also getting solid offensive production from blue liner Kris Letang (1-11-12) and Evgeni Malkin (4-6-10), who looks to be healed from a knee injury that shelved him for much of last season.

And on Saturday, the Stars close out the trip in Detroit. The Red Wings are struggling so far this year with just a 5-5-1 record for 10 points, which puts them in fourth place in the Central Division. They’re also having a problem scoring goals. Pavel Datsyuk is their top offensive player to date with eight points and this is a team that Dallas took three of four from last year.

While much of the trip might look daunting on paper, Stars All-Star winger Loui Eriksson, who netted the game winner against Colorado, likes the direction the club is headed in the first year under Gulutzan and also likes the Stars’ prospects for another successful road trip. After all, their last four-game road swing saw them go 3-1-0 and head back to Dallas with considerable momentum.

“Of course, it’s always nice to win and have that confidence. We have a tough challenge in this four-game road trip here,” Eriksson said. “I think everyone is looking forward to that too. It will be hard to go in and win those games.”

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