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Stars get a break as stretch drive looms

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars will be getting a little rest and relaxation for the next several days as the NHL takes a break for All-Star Weekend.

The Stars won’t be back on the ice until Monday, when they’ll practice in Frisco to prepare for their first games out of the break – at Anaheim (Wednesday) and at San Jose (Thursday).

Until then, it’s time to recharge the batteries in preparation for the stretch drive.

“Just going to relax, get away from the game a little bit,” said defenseman Alex Goligoski, who will spend some time in Minnesota. “The mental grind is probably more grueling than the physical one. It’s good to get away.”

Goaltender Kari Lehtonen was unsure of his plans following his shutout of Anaheim on Tuesday, but he was looking forward to a few days off as well.

“Just stay away from the rink,” said Lehtonen. “It’s been a long year. This is good that halfway you get a little rest, and then you get to go work again.”

Stars coach Glen Gulutzan wants the players to enjoy their break, but to be prepared to hit the ice skating when practice resumes next week.

“I haven’t dared to ask them all their plans. I’m sure guys are going to where it’s warm. I told them to take four days and don’t think about the game,” Gulutzan said. “But come Sunday let’s make sure that Monday isn’t a complete, OK, I’ve got to practice today. Start thinking about it Sunday and make sure you’re prepared to be at your best Monday.”

The Stars, who are in 10th place in the Western Conference and three points out of the final playoff spot, will have a key stretch of hockey when they return. In February they play 16 games in 29 days, including four sets of back-to-back to games.

“February and March are going to be crazy for us,” said center Mike Ribeiro. “February is going to be playoff mode for us. We are going to have to win night in and night out. It’s a tough schedule, but guys will be ready. The break will be good for guys.”

The last two seasons the Stars have struggled out of the break. They were 1-8-1 following the All-Star break last season. In 2009-10 they were 1-5-1 coming out of the Olympic break. Both slides were key to them missing the playoffs. They can’t afford another post-break slip this season.

“We have to be focused to because the last few years after the break we really didn’t do well,” said Ribeiro. “The good thing is that it happens now that we’re not doing well, maybe we’ll do well after the break. The last few years we’ve been doing well before the break and then we collapse. I think guys will be mentally different and prepared for the last stretch here, and give it a push.”

The Stars should be healthy as well. Ribeiro returned Tuesday after missing seven games with a knee injury. Jamie Benn, who has missed the last five games following an appendectomy, will play in the NHL All-Star Game Sunday and will be ready to go after the break. Brenden Morrow, who missed Tuesday’s game with a neck injury, is expected to be ready as well.

“We’re in a battle to get one of those spots. February will be a telling month for us,” said Gulutzan. “We haven’t had any excuses, we haven’t made excuses for ourselves and we have no excuses coming back. We’ll be healthy and rested and we have to make a run at it.”

Notes

*Jamie Benn skated again Wednesday. The Stars activated him from injured reserve. Benn will now head to Ottawa where he’ll take part in NHL All-Star Game activities this week.

*The Stars assigned D Philip Larsen, RW Tomas Vincour and LW Matt Fraser to the Texas Stars of the AHL on Wednesday.