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With Break Over, Stars Seek Strong Start

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

For the first time in several months, the Dallas Stars had every member of their roster on the ice for practice in Frisco. That was definitely a welcome sight for first-year head coach Glen Gulutzan, especially as his team will start the second half of the season with back-to-back games in Anaheim and San Jose on Wednesday and Thursday.

Dallas captain Brenden Morrow had missed the 1-0 win over the Ducks last Tuesday, the Stars’ final game before the NHL All-Star break due to a sore neck, but he along with Mike Ribeiro, who returned from a knee injury against Anaheim and veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas now looks to be recovered from an ongoing foot issue.

“(Robidas) today was skipping around. He’s got no limp. He’s got a little hop in his step, so he’s back,” Gulutzan said. “His foot’s not bothering him anymore. They all got their maintenance before the break. I talked to (Morrow) this morning and all that pain (in his shoulder) is gone and he feels good. We’ve got no excuses going forward. We’ve got to work to get what we want but we’ve got no excuses.”

And considering everyone is now healthy, the mood at Monday’s afternoon practice, the Stars’ first after the break, was very upbeat.

“It’s amazing what rest does for you. I was excited to get a break, take some time, just clear your head and get away from everything,” Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley said. “Coming in today, I was pretty excited to get back to the rink, see the boys and find out what everybody did. It was what I expected for sure.”

Stars backup goaltender Richard Bachman concurs.

“I think the break was key for us. It came at a good time,” Bachman said. “Now we have a lot of healthy bodies in the room, which is nice. There was a little bit extra jump out there today at practice. You kind of get a mental break from everything, get refreshed and ready to go for the next little half.”

Through 47 games, the Stars (25-21-2, 47 points) find themselves third in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference standings but just three points out of the eighth playoff spot, currently held by Minnesota.

Gulutzan and his staff are well aware of what the club did right in the first half and also what parts of their game need the most improvement. But he knows if they are to end a three-year playoff drought, it will be because they are able to keep moving forward instead of looking back at what happened in the first half of the season.

“We think that our best games are ahead of us. We are healthy and in a position to do it. Now it just has to get done,” Gulutzan said. “We have to work to get it done but we’re healthy and ready to go.”

And the fact that the Stars will have plenty of games remaining against the likes of the Avalanche, Flames and Wild, teams they will be battling for a playoff spot, that is definitely a huge positive in the final 35 games of the regular season.

“The thing you want is to always put yourself in position to have success. We still have our own fate in our own hands. We can do it ourselves,” Gulutzan said. “We play all the teams that are ahead of us. We can catch every one of them. We play head-to-head, so that’s where you want to be. We need to do a few things better than we have in the past, but we have no excuses moving forward. We’re healthy but I think that our best hockey’s coming.”

Dallas is just 11-12-0 on the road this season and the Stars have dropped five of their last six away from home with the only win being a 5-4 shootout victory over the Kings at Staples Center on Jan. 12. Despite his club’s recent road struggles, the man behind the Dallas bench feels that heading out for a quick, two-game road trip at Anaheim and San Jose is a great way to start off the second half of the year.

“There’s no better thing sometimes after a break than to get out on the road. Sometimes that can be a real good thing,” Gulutzan said. “We like the fact that we’re heading out on the road. We’re playing Anaheim and San Jose, two teams in our division, so that just heightens the importance of those two games. We talked before the break that we have to have a playoff mentality coming back and there’s no better way to start than with those two teams.”

Before last week’s win over Anaheim, the mantra among the Dallas players was that the playoff push had already started, a mindset that they have definitely carried forward. “It’s definitely playoff hockey from here now to the end and it starts in Anaheim against Anaheim,” Daley said.

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