DALLAS — The Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars meet early Sunday afternoon at American Airlines Center, a game starting at 11:30 a.m. local time, but both teams are embracing this scheduling anomaly.
Boston (31-24-6) welcomes the early start because that means its four-game trip, on which the Bruins are 2-1-0 thus far, including a 4-1 win at Los Angeles on Thursday, will end a little earlier than normal, meaning they return home sooner.
“We know what’s on the line,” Bruins forward David Backes said after practice in Dallas on Saturday. “We need great efforts from everybody, same team game we’ve been playing the last five, six games.
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“The results have shown for themselves that we’re doing a lot of little things that help you win games and we’re climbing.”
The Bruins are 16-11-6 on the road and 7-3-0 in their last 10 games, but Boston is only 10-10-0 against the Western Conference this season.
And even though this is the first meeting of the season with the Stars, the Boston players know Dallas remains a formidable foe, especially on home ice, where the Stars are 17-9-6 this season.
Dallas’ overall record of 24-27-10 doesn’t reflect what a tough draw they can be.
“Yeah, they have a lot of talent on that team and they’re a better team than what their record shows,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “They’re able to play extremely well on any given night and we know that, so we have to be prepared to come in and play harder than we have this whole road trip.
“We want to try to finish it the right way and to do that, we need to have a great game.”
Tuukka Rask is scheduled to start in goal for Boston to conclude the trip.
The Bruins are tied with the New York Islanders for the final wild-card spot in the East with 68 points. However, the Islanders occupy that spot since the Bruins have played one more game.
Sunday’s game is Pevs Protects Day in honor of former Bruins and Stars forward Rich Peverley, who was forced to retire after a cardiac episode on the ice in Dallas during a game against Columbus in March 2014.
Peverley works for the Stars as a player development coach and will be in attendance Sunday to help raise funds and awareness for the American Heart Association.
Dallas, who defeated Arizona 5-2 at home Thursday, also is looking forward to the early start, but for an entirely different reason.
The Stars cling to slim playoff hopes and sit nine points behind Nashville for the second wild-card spot in the West heading into play Saturday.
Stars veteran forward Patrick Sharp, who could be dealt prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on Wednesday to a contender, has some prior experience with such early starts during his time in Chicago, where he was part of three Stanley Cup championship squads as a Blackhawk.
And for Sharp, the key to these earlier starts is treating them like any other game as much as possible.
“You practice every day at 11 o’clock, right?” Sharp said. “That’s kind of how I treat it, wake up, go to the rink and probably if anything just eat more during the game. Eat whatever you can eat to keep your energy up.
“I guess the biggest thing for the team is usually whoever starts the quickest wins the game. Sometimes you can sleepwalk your way through a period and find yourself in trouble. It’s no different than any other game, just get yourself ready to play however that is.”
Dallas, 7-10-4 against the East, might get a boost on defense from the potential return of veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya, out the last 14 games because of a lower-body injury.
Before Friday’s game with Arizona, Stars coach Lindy Ruff originally said Oduya, who also could be traded prior to Wednesday because he is a veteran who played on two Stanley Cup winners in Chicago alongside Sharp, was on schedule to return Sunday.
And it appears that could indeed be the case.
“The plan was to get him through today and have him available (for tomorrow),” Ruff said after practice Saturday.
The Stars got another boost Saturday when veteran forward Adam Cracknell, on injured reserve because of a lower-body injury and expected to miss three to six weeks, skated and appears to be on track to return much earlier than originally expected.
“Yeah, that’s just surprising for me that he’s back out there that soon, which is very promising that he’s ahead of schedule,” Ruff said of Cracknell. “This looks like a two to three-week range versus that original assessment of three to five or three to six.”
On Friday, Dallas traded veteran forward Patrick Eaves, who set a new career-high with 21 goals, to Anaheim for a conditional second-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
And since Cracknell had to go on injured reserve, the Stars are down a forward, but Ruff said the organization would recall a player from its AHL affiliate in Cedar Park, Texas, before Sunday’s game to fill that vacancy.
One Bruin who the Stars will keep a watchful eye on is forward David Pastrnak, who is tied with Marchand for the club lead with 26 goals.
“Well, he’s got a great shot and he’s around the net,” Ruff said of Pastrnak. “Obviously, the season he’s had is way above where anyone would have put him.”