The Dallas Stars ended the first part of the season sneaking their way into the Western Conference playoff picture and they should be ready to hang on to that eighth spot when the regular season resumes.
The team coached by Lindy Ruff will have a tough task ahead of them as they battle against the likes of the Phoenix Coyotes and the Minnesota Wild, but based on how things project in the near future, the Stars could have an improbable edge based on the performance of their players at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Head coach Ruff will use the experience of being a gold medal winner – as he was an assistant in Team Canada – and that should be useful to what he can say to his players. The pressure of fighting for a playoff spot is tight and tense, and his role of being with the Canadian team in a short tournament against the best players in the world could be quite handy.
The same can be said for two of the team’s best players, Jamie Benn and Kari Lehtonen. The winger ended up being key for Canada and his goal in the semifinals against Team USA proved to be the difference in what was Canada’s toughest game in the competition. As for the netminder, Lehtonen managed to play despite the fact that he wasn’t the designated starter and even though he lost his semifinal game, the experience of being there – and being part of the roster that ultimately won the bronze medal – will surely give him a huge boost of confidence down the stretch.
Russian winger Valeri Nichushkin was the other Olympian of the team and even though he didn’t play a huge role with the local country, he didn’t look overmatched and even found a way to score in the tournament. Considering he’s only 18 years old, Nichushkin has a bright future ahead of him and the experience gained could help him to build over his spectacular rookie start.
The Stars will need a full effort from all of their players to secure a spot in the playoffs, something they haven’t done in the last five years. Their Olympic representatives will be key to maintain the pace in this run and there’s no doubt that the Stars look in great shape after seeing what happened at Sochi.