The Dallas Stars named Marc Crawford coach in the hopes that he could help them regain their status as a contender in the Western Conference. So far the move is paying off.
The resurgent Stars look to win for the fourth time in five games Friday night when they host the lowly Florida Panthers in Crawford’s 1,000th game behind the bench.
Dallas (6-2-4) entered last season with lofty goals after falling to Detroit in six games in the 2008 Western Conference finals. A series of injuries contributed to the Stars coming up eight points shy of the final playoff spot and failing to qualify for the third time since relocating from Minnesota in 1993.
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In an effort to return to the postseason, Dallas fired coach Dave Tippett and replaced him with Crawford, who spent last season as a TV analyst after not reaching the playoffs in two seasons with Los Angeles.
Crawford, who guided Colorado to the Stanley Cup in 1996, has the Stars vying for the Pacific Division lead with the Kings and San Jose.
The 1995 Jack Adams Award winner will become the 15th coach in NHL history to reach 1,000 games Friday, but he’ll still be 1,141 behind Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman for the all-time lead.
The Stars made Crawford’s 999th game a victory Wednesday, as James Neal scored 2:57 into overtime to clinch a 4-3 win over Toronto. That also ended Dallas’ run of four consecutive losses in games that reached overtime or the shootout.
“I thought the overtime was our best period for whatever reason,” Crawford said. “It looked like we had good command in our own zone, good control of the puck, and it looked like we had some sustainable pressure. (Wednesday) we were able to persevere.”
Neal, who added an assist against the Maple Leafs, has been hot of late. The left wing has four goals and three assists to help the Stars go 3-0-1 over the last four games.
Neal’s seven goals lead Dallas and his 14 points are one back of Brad Richards‘ team high. He had 24 goals and 37 points in 77 games as a rookie last season, but managed only an assist in two meetings with Florida (2-7-1).
The Stars split two meetings with the Panthers last season, as both clubs lost at home. Dallas fell 6-3 to Florida at American Airlines Center on March 28 and is 1-2-1 in the last four matchups there.
The Panthers are 1-7-1 since a season-opening 4-3 shootout win against Chicago in Finland and their five points are only better than Toronto’s NHL-low four. They’re also last in the league with 22 goals.
Florida is also trying to end a four-game slide (0-3-1) after falling 4-3 to Ottawa on Wednesday.
“When things are going bad, you never get the bounces,” said defenseman Bryan McCabe, who scored his first goal of the season Wednesday, but had a shot deflect off his skate and into his own net to give the Senators the lead for good in the second period.
Despite the Panthers‘ poor start, Steven Reinprecht has a team-leading five goals with all of them coming in the last five games. The center had 14 goals with Phoenix last season, and has two goals in his last 11 games against Dallas.
Stars goalie Marty Turco has flulike symptoms and will not play against the Panthers. Dallas recalled Matt Climie from Texas of the AHL before this game.