The Dallas Stars spent three weeks occupying a Western Conference playoff spot over the break, but the Vancouver Canucks needed just a couple of hours to take it back Wednesday night, snapping a seven-game losing streak with an impressive 1-0 statement win against the St. Louis Blues.
And the see-saw, or at least Stars fans hope, begins anew. It's their turn to seize it back tonight as the Carolina Hurricanes come to the American Airlines Center at 7:30pm CST on Fox Sports Southwest.
Dallas recovered from a January tail-spin with a 6-1-2 stretch to close things out ahead of the break, during which they out-scored opponents 27-12 and beat the Phoenix Coyotes twice to secure eighth place for much of February.
The question is if that momentum still exists after such a lengthy break.
The Stars find themselves at perhaps a slight disadvantage, trying to relocate their game from a cold start tonight while the Hurricanes have already played on Tuesday and been traveling. Lindy Ruff knows the Stars need to start quick.
"Carolina will have a little bit of an advantage because they've had a game to get the rust off," Ruff told media this week. "For us, it's creating enough urgency in our play to overcome not playing in two-and-a-half weeks."
The lineup in practice on Wednesday tasked with generating said urgency was this, subject to change:
Dallas opens play with a stretch of things that have been difficult for them at times this season: Eastern Conference opponents in Carolina, Tampa Bay and Buffalo (recall six straight losses to Eastern foes to start what was supposed to be a manageable stretch of January), and home games. Only eight teams in the entire league have fewer home wins than do the Stars.
On the other hand the Stars are 4-1-1 in their last four home games. On the other the Stars beat the Maple Leafs, Penguins and Devils at home in the span of a week. How things are going to take off out of the break are anyone's guess.
The Stars can hang with the tough teams. Wins against Los Angeles, Anaheim, Chicago, Minnesota and Pittsburgh have shown that. Losses to Nashville, the Islanders, New Jersey and Edmonton have shown the opposite. How quickly they re-find their team game and the defense they were committed to three weeks ago will tell fans what they need to know about finding consistencies against all levels of competition.
The Hurricanes are a very respectable 4-2-2 against the Central Division this season including points earned against the Blackhawks and Blues, so they can hold their own in these inter-conference battles.
They carry with them a respectable 50% Corsi rating at 5-on-5 with the score close, meaning they give as good as they get where shot attempts are concerned. They probably deserved better in their action Tuesday night in Buffalo, out-shooting the Sabres 38-18 while earning five power play opportunities, but ultimately losing 3-2 to Ryan Miller in the opposing goal.
Carolina owns the league's third worst power play at 13.9% (Dallas is up to 15.1%) and a well below average kill, but they don't need it. The Hurricanes have surrendered just 22 power play opportunities in their last 11 games. Two per. That's a very disciplined bench, and the Stars will have to be the team that dictates pace if they want to earn some calls.
The Hurricanes are a top-10 team in terms of shots on goal, however, and might be right at home if the Stars want to get out and run a little bit.
Yes, that's former Dallas Star Radek Dvorak, now on a two-way contract with Carolina after a camp invite in September.
Dallas has not seen Carolina since November 6th, 2011 in a 5-2 win.
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