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Stars' mindset entering matchup with Preds? 'Let's do some damage'

Dallas heads into its first-round showdown 'as healthy as we've been all year,' Montgomery says

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

After taking Sunday off, the Dallas Stars were back on the ice Monday for practice, preparing for their first-round playoff series against Nashville.

When the Stars hit the ice against the Predators Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena (8:30 p.m. CT; FS-SW, USA Network; KTCK), they'll be playing their first postseason game since 2016.

"The hunger is there," said Stars center Tyler Seguin. "Sitting on your couch in April all those years in a row, it doesn't feel good. You don't like watching; you want to be playing. Most of the times in the first round I am not even watching because I am still angry about the regular season. It's nice to be playing and competing this year."

"It feels good," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "Up-tempo practice today. A lot of energy and a lot of excitement around here. Definitely looking forward to Game 1."

The Stars battled through injuries and ups and down this season, but they are feeling good about themselves coming into the postseason. They secured the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference by putting together a 19-11-3 mark after the All-Star break, the 41 points during that stretch were the second most in the West.

"We feel like we played some great hockey down the stretch, "said Benn. "We won some big games, especially on the road. We're a confident group going in."

Video: Stars excited for Game 1 against Predators

"The goal all along has been get back in the playoffs," said Seguin. "Now the goal is let's do some damage."

They'll face a tough task in the Predators, one of the top teams in the league over the past several seasons. A team that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016-17 and won the Presidents' Trophy last season as the top regular season team. The Predators had some injury issues this season, but went 8-2-1 in their last 11 games to secure first place in the Central Division.

"We know Nashville is the real deal," said Benn. "They are Central Division champs, and we've all seen what they've done in past playoffs. Not much has changed. They're good from top to bottom, great goalie. We're going to have to be prepared."

The Stars and Predators have a growing rivalry the timing of the playoff series couldn't better with the two teams set to square off at the 2020 Winter Classic in Dallas.

"It's going to be a hard-fought series and if there not a rivalry there already, there is going to be," said Seguin.

"I am sure NBC is excited with us in the Winter Classic next year. I guess you can call it fate for sure. It's going to be a good series."

Video: 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Don't Leave Empty-Handed

 

Stars healthy heading into playoffs

Everybody on the active roster was on the ice for practice, including forward Mats Zuccarello, who didn't play the last two games after leaving Tuesday's game against Philadelphia midway through the third period as a precaution.

Zuccarello and everybody else practicing Monday are good to go, head coach Jim Montgomery said.

"Everybody is available to play," Montgomery said with a smile. "It's as healthy as we've been all year."

Zuccarello practiced on a line with Benn and Roope Hintz, while Seguin centered Jason Dickinson and Alexander Radulov. Radek Faksa centered the third line with Andrew Cogliano and Blake Comeau and Justin Dowling centered the fourth line with Mattias Janmark and Tyler Pitlick.

The fifth line had Jason Spezza at center and Valeri Nichushkin and Brett Ritchie on the wings.

The defense pairs were the same as the ones used down the stretch: Esa Lindell-John Klingberg; Miro Heiskanen-Roman Polak; Taylor Fedun-Ben Lovejoy. Jamie Oleksiak and Julius Honka skated as the fourth pair.

Video: Previewing the Stars vs. Predators First Round series

Montgomery was asked what he was looking for as he tried to pick his lineup for Wednesday's series opener.

"We're just analyzing who is practicing well, who is executing well," he said. "This time of year, you really don't have to worry about effort. It's more execution and the players you can trust to get the job done."

Montgomery has been forthcoming during the regular season when revealing his starting goaltenders, but he appears to be in playoff mode now and avoided the question about Wednesday's starter.

"We have a luxury, right?" Montgomery said. "We have two great goalies, two No. 1s. Over the course of the playoffs, we expect to use both at different times. So, we'll make that decision Wednesday morning."

Montgomery does have a luxury. Ben Bishop is coming off a great season that has put him in the mix for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender. He ranked second in the league in goals-against average at 1.98 and was first with a .934 save percentage, which set a Stars franchise record. His seven shutouts ranked third.

Anton Khudobin had a stellar season with a 2.57 goals-against average and ranking eighth in the league with a .923 save percentage. He was impressive in his three starts at Nashville, posting a 2-0-1 record with a 1.33 goals-against average and .964 save percentage.

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Stars clinch a playoff spot

 

Game 1: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators

When: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. CT

Where: Bridgestone Arena

TV: Fox Sports Southwest, USA Network

Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

 

Monday's practice lineup

Here's how the Stars lined up Monday afternoon.

Jason Dickinson - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Roope Hintz - Mats Zuccarello
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark - Justin Dowling - Tyler Pitlick
Valeri Nichushkin - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy
Jamie Oleksiak - Julius Honka

Ben Bishop
Anton Khudobin
Landon Bow

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for DallasStars.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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