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Sunday Notes: Stars Getting More Comfortable in Tight Games

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

After struggling to protect leads and close out games earlier in the season, the Dallas Stars seem to be getting more comfortable in those situations. And it’s been key in helping the Stars put together a run over the past couple weeks.

“Even through those tough times, we were in every game. We had a lot of leads, and we lost a lot of leads and I think you learn from that,” said Stars forward Shawn Horcoff. “We’ve spent a lot of time on our D zone and structure the last month. We are not where we want to be yet, where we are perfect in those kinds of situations. But I think we are making steps in the right direction.”

The Stars have won five of six games and in three of those wins – at St. Louis, at Calgary, at Vancouver –the Stars protected a one-goal lead for most or all of the third period. Against St. Louis, they protected a one-goal lead for almost 15 minutes of the third. Against Calgary, they held a one-goal lead for the entire third. Against Vancouver, they protected a one-goal edge during the final period until Antoine Roussel sealed the win with an empty-net goal.

“The only way you get comfortable is by being able to do it and succeed,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff.

They also protected a third-period lead in a home win over New Jersey, and there was third period rally to defeat Edmonton on the road.

Third periods, which were a sore spot for the Stars early in the season, have gotten better. The Stars allowed 37 third-period goals in their first 26 games. They’ve allowed just four goals in the past eight. That’s translated into some success in closing out games. The Stars won just two of the first five games in which they led after two periods (2-1-2). They’ve won the last eight in that situation and are now 10-1-2 when leading after two periods. And they will need more of the same as they try to climb back into the playoff picture.

“Any veteran player that has been deep in the playoffs knows that you’ve got to be able to shut down games,” Horcoff said. “You’ve got to be able to rely on a solid defensive structure in tight games, and that is what the playoffs are all about. For us, it is going to be the deciding factor if we get in or how high we get in the standings. In order to go on the real good run we need to, it’s going to come down to defense. Plain and simple.”

Here come the Rangers

The Stars kick off a three-game homestand Monday and game one will be a challenge. The New York Rangers come to town riding an eight-game winning streak. The Rangers have allowed just 11 goals during that stretch.

“It’s a good test for us. They haven’t been giving up a lot. They’ve been playing good hockey,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “They’ve been getting production out of [Rick] Nash. He’s been real dangerous. They’ve got dangerous guys in [Martin] St. Louis, [Chris] Kreider, and they’ve got good speed. Their back end can be fairly mobile at times. They are a good shot blocking team. And they are on a good run. Our job is to knock them off that run and stay on ours.”

Ruff on goaltending plans

Stars coach Lindy Ruff seldom talks about his goaltending plans and he stayed the course after Sunday’s practice in Frisco. The Stars have four games over the next seven days including a back-to-back on the weekend, but Ruff said he is the goaltending taking game-by-game. He said he may go period-by-period as the Stars try to make a push in the Western Conference standings.

“I am going tomorrow’s game and give it some thought after that. That is as far as I am going,” Ruff said. “We are in a situation now where we can push up, and we’ve made a hard push by going out and winning the games on the road. Now, it’s one game at a time. We’ll judge it by how it is going. It may be one period and if it doesn’t look like is going well we might have a different goalie.”

Gaunce back to AHL

The Stars sent defenseman Cameron Gaunce back to Texas of the AHL Sunday morning. Dallas called up Gaunce Saturday, and he was a healthy scratch for that night’s game in St. Louis.

Stars practice lineup

Here was how the Stars lined up in Sunday afternoon’s practice in Frisco.

Jamie BennTyler SeguinColton Sceviour
Erik ColeJason SpezzaAles Hemsky
Antoine RousselCody EakinRyan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff
Vernon FiddlerTravis Moen/Travis Morin

Jyrki JokipakkaTrevor Daley
Alex GoligoskiJohn Klingberg
Jordie BennJason Demers

Kari Lehtonen
Anders Lindback

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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