Stars embark on another tough stretch

Now that the 6-2 shellacking they took at the hands of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center is firmly in the rearview mirror, the Dallas Stars’ focus now shifts to where it should be, on their present and future.

That present starts on Thursday night in Nashville, where the Stars will face the Predators for the first time this season. Nashville is 14-14-3 for 31 points but is just two points behind Dallas in the Central Division standings.

But the big difference between the two teams comes in goal differential as the Stars are a solid plus-3 and the Preds currently sit at minus-18.

However, this game is only the start for Dallas, who will play four times over the next six nights, a stretch that will culminate on Tuesday night when the Stars host the Colorado Avalanche to finish out the second night of a back-to-back that also sees them face the Avs on Monday night in the Mile High City.

Oh yeah, and there’s a trip to Winnipeg to face the Jets on Saturday thrown in for good measure. The puck will drop on that game at 2 PM Dallas time on Saturday as the Stars hope for a repeat of their last trip to the Jets’ home ice, a 4-1 win back on Oct. 11.

“It’s a big four games,” Stars second-year defenseman Brenden Dillon said of this tough stretch. “We’ve been playing well on the road. We want to keep that streak going and we’ve got to understand the meaning of these games.”

And there could be some good news for Dallas on this trip as after practice on Wednesday, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said injured center Vernon Fiddler, who left in the first period of Saturday’s 5-1 win over Philadelphia with an upper-body injury, could play on the back end of this road trip, likely meaning one or both of the games with the Avalanche.

But before the Stars can even concern themselves with whether or not their fourth-line center and one of their hardest-working players on the ice will be back in the fold or not, they’ve got to focus on game one with the Preds and beyond.

Thursday’s game will mark Dallas’ 30th of the season, meaning they inch ever closer to the season’s mythical halfway point. And since the games keep ticking away, Ruff knows there’s no time like the presence for his club to start making some headway when it comes to clawing their way closer to playoff contention. The Stars are currently seven points out.

“We’ve had segments of that schedule that have been out East and now we’re back in the West playing teams that if we want to move up and close the game with some of our games in hand, we’ve got to be able to win these games,” Ruff said.

Dallas is currently 9-6-1 away from the AAC and gritty winger Antoine Roussel, who had both goals for the Stars in Tuesday’s loss to the Blackhawks, knows this current tough stretch represents one thing for him and his teammates-a great opportunity.

It’s not just a chance for him and his fellow Stars to atone for what Ruff called a very disappointing showing on Tuesday, except for Roussel, who Ruff lauded for his play. But it’s also a chance to keep building on what has been a solid road record to date, continuing to accumulate points and maybe even gain a spot or two in the Western Conference standings.

“It’s big for us,” Roussel said. “We are still a lot of points out of a playoff spot even though we have a good record. Every game is important, but those (divisional) games are big. They are four-point games. The next four are against division rivals, so we need to bear down. It’s one game at a time and hopefully we’ll make good.”