Stars face big test against Canucks

FRISCO, Texas -- There are plenty of ups and downs over the course of the long NHL season, and the Dallas Stars are on a bit of an upswing these days. They’ve put together three straight wins for the first time since the middle of December and that’s helped them climb into a playoff spot.

“I think we’re figuring it out,” said Stars forward Steve Ott. “It’s taken a while to play the right way. Before that it was costly turnovers, losing momentum during shifts – just little things that add up to be big things. For us now to be on the same page, to be putting the onus on each other to do the right play, I think has been a big key of late. Now that we are getting the results that we want it is proving to the guys in the dressing room that this is the right way for this team to play.”

During the three-game streak the Stars have outscored their opponents 10-2. They’ve had good starts in all three games, and scored the first goal in two of them.

“We’ve got a little bit more focus on our starts, and a little bit of our puck play has been a big focus, our puck management,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “We’re doing some of the little defensive things that help you keep things tight and win, and we’re doing them consistently. That’s what’s enabled us to keep the shots down and the goals against down.”

Those 10 goals scored in three games follow a stretch where the Stars scored more than two goals only three times in a 17-game span.

“We’ve gotten some bounces, created our own bounces,” said Gulutzan. “We’ve gotten to the net pretty well, put pucks there and we’ve got some screens and tips. I think we’ve done a good job of that.”

The Stars will need to be on top of their game Sunday as the Vancouver Canucks roll into town. The Canucks are 10-1-2 since the All-Star break and have climbed to the top of the Western Conference standings.

“They’ve got a great team and they went to the Finals (last season) for a reason,” said Gulutzan. “We’re going to have to be defensively sound and disciplined for sure.”

This will be the Stars’ first look at the Canucks this season, who dominated last season’s series, winning all four games by a combined score of 20-5. It’s a different year, but the Canucks have the look of a team that could make another deep run and the Stars are looking forward to see how they stack up against one of the top teams in the league.

“We look at them the way we look at Boston, the New York Rangers and other top teams that we’ve been very successful against. We’ve played them tight and we’ve played them hard and we’ve played them well,” said Ott. “Taking on a team of that caliber again you have to take on that energy and grab that excitement from it. That’s what I look foward to, continuing to match up against top teams.”

Notes: Larsen probable for Sunday

*Defenseman Philip Larsen, who left Friday’s game after getting hit in the head with a puck, is probable for Sunday’s game against the Canucks.

*Stars forward Jamie Benn, who has missed the last five games with a leg injury, skated in Saturday’s optional practice in Frisco. He is not expected to play Sunday, but said he is hoping to play Wednesday against Pittsburgh.