After their big 5-0 win over the Washington Capitals Tuesday night the Dallas Stars had an optional practice Wednesday that resulted in a reportedly light-hearted session outside the rink with baseballs, footballs and soccer balls.
A well earned day of fun for a team that's won five of their last six to climb back into contention for that last wild card spot.
And yet, if you pay attention to these things long enough, and you've been a fan of this team for the long haul, you're trained to look for the banana peel.
You might recall, for example, the last time the Stars won a HUGE game in Washinton. It was a 5-2 decision in early November of 2011. Afterward practice the next day was cancelled and the 11-3-0 Dallas Stars were treated to a day of riding Go-Karts by Glen Gulutzan. Everything was right with the world. Then they lost five straight.
The streaky nature of this year's group, and it comes out of nowhere both ways, makes you wonder how they'll respond to their success. Success was all there really was in DC Tuesday night.
Capital's forward Eric Fehr described the Stars after the game-
"They are a really fast team, and they got a lot of pressure on us," he conceded. "We didn't react well to it. We turned over too many pucks, we didn't make the easy plays - the 10 foot plays - we were looking for long passes and they hemmed us in our zone pretty good."
To perceive a thing is nice. To hear the enemy say it is another. Pressure. Hemming them in. It's what the Stars can do when they receive the netminding they need while executing their speed-game intelligently, rather than the occasional dud they'll throw out there that included all of the expeditiousness and none of the cerebral support to make it count.
Erik Cole is progressing for Dallas and could be a player this weekend, but not tonight. D Patrik Nemeth made his NHL debut Tuesday and played a hair under 12 minutes, but it's not yet clear when his next chance will come.
There's little reason to think anyone but Kari Lehtonen will be in net tonight for Ruff.
The Hurricanes have not had the best of luck against the Western Conference this season, but the same could be said of most Eastern Conference teams not named Boston or Pittsburgh. They're 9-13-5 overall against the stronger conference, but have earned points in 8 of 12 home games at 5-4-3, so the Stars could be in store for a bit of a staring contest if it's tight in the third period.
Giving a point to the Hurricanes matters not, of course. Getting that extra point in such a scenario matters a great deal, and with four more ROWs than Phoenix, it doesn't matter how they do it.
Everything about the Hurricanes on paper screams .500- Their 33-32-11 record overall, their 17-5-6 home record, their 16-17-5 road record, their 4-4-2 record in their last ten games- All of it. 13th place in the East and out of the playoff race with just 77 points screams "should win", but the other side of that .500 coin is that they (Carolina) could easily rise up and strike.
With Tampa Bay and St. Louis left on the schedule the Stars need this one. Pretty badly.
Carolina has played well of late- Beating Pittsburgh 4-1 in their last outing, winning in Winnipeg, in Columbus, losing a close one in Chicago. They have the stomach for a fight, so it will be interesting to see how the Stars come out focus-wise after what sounded like a pretty recreational day in Raleigh Wednesday.
Looking at the forward talent they have, it's not hard to see why they can rise up on any given night.
Khudobin made 30 saves for the win in Pittsburgh and should be in net. Rookie Elias Lindholm scored twice in that one- Watch for that "third" line with Skinner on it as well. The Stars depth has been tested (successfully) lately- This is yet another.
The Stars average 31.7 shots per game to the Hurricane's 31.3, and both teams give up very nearly 31 per game, so this one could have some pace to it with like-minded squads getting up and down the ice.
It's another early start- 6:00pm CST on Fox Sports Southwest locally.