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Ken Hitchcock


C-Mike Modano, Guy Carbonneau, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tony Hrkac, Brian Skrudland. LW- Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Botterill, Dave Reid, Brent Severyn, Jere Lehtinen, Dan Keczmer. RW- Brett Hull, Mike Keane, Grant Marshall, Pat Verbeek. D-Derian Hatcher, Craig Ludwig, Darryl Sydor, Shawn Chambers, Richard Matvichuk, Sergei Zubov, Sergei Gusev. G-Ed Belfour, Roman Turek.


Brian Skrudland, c (chest contusion, 2-4 weeks). Brett Hull, rw (strained hamstring, two weeks).


Placed Brett Hull, rw, on "the IR". Assigned Sergei Gusev, d, to the Michigan K-Wings (IHL). Assigned Dan Keczmer, lw, to the Michigan K-Wings.


2/23 at Nashville    W 4-3
2/24 Nashville       L 2-1
2/26 Pittsburgh      W 6-4
2/28 Los Angeles     W 1-0
3/2  at NY Rangers   T 2-2 OT
3/4  at NY Islanders W 3-2
3/5  at Buffalo      L 2-1
3/7  St. Louis       W 4-3


Pacific Division    GP   W   L   T   PTS   GF   GA  
  Dallas            62  40  12  10    90  181  125  
  Phoenix           63  31  22  10    72  157  149  
  Anaheim           64  30  25   9    69  172  154  
  San Jose          64  22  28  14    58  141  152  
  Los Angeles       64  23  36   5    51  145  172


by Jim Panenka, Dallas Correspondent

Let's Just Not Mention The I-Word Anymore, Capeche?

The Stars were lucky enough to avoid games lost by players due to "physical problems" (don't mention that damn I-word) for most of the season. That is, at least until a certain idiot correspondent jinxed the whole thing by bringing that fact into light.

Following that ill-advised and mis-timed mention, Dallas was hexed with three key player's physical problems in a row. Brian Skrudland had already been out awhile due to a cartilage tear in his ribs. Then Darryl Sydor fell victim to "the Reunion Meat Grinder." The poor ice at the arena has already cost the Stars several knee twinges because of ruts (Brett Hull was an early-season victim), so Sydor was lucky to escape with just a sprain. Lastly, Brett Hull suffered a strained hamstring muscle.

Just like that, the Stars were without their number-one goal scorer and power-play threat in Brett Hull, their number-one scoring defenseman in Darryl Sydor, and had lost their third-line centerman in Brian Skrudland (although that one technically isn't my fault).

So due to that bad luck, this column will no longer mention the I-word -- you know the one we're talking about. At least not until the playoffs are over. I have learned my lesson! It's not like I'm superstitious, or anything. But just go with me here, OK? Cool.

Stars sign Lidster to Bolster Defense (Defence for all you Great White Northerners)

In a not-so-surprising move, Dallas GM Bob Gainey announced that the Stars have signed semi-retired veteran defender Doug Lidster to a one-year deal. The trigger was pulled on this deal when Sydor went down with the strained knee. It was obvious that Dallas would need an extra defender with playoff experience just in case another key defender is lost during the playoffs.

Lidster, a 38 year-old veteran, has played 14 seasons in the NHL. Some career highlights include 10 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, as well as being a four-season member of the New York Rangers, including the 1994 Stanley Cup championship team. He spent the beginning of the 1998-99 season with the Canadian National Team, where he had 4 goals, 15 assists, and 64 penalty minutes in 38 games.

"Doug will provide depth and experience to our team as we enter the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs," said GM Bob Gainey.

In 880 career games, Lidster has 75 goals and 268 assists for 343 points with 669 penalty minutes. Lidster was noted as saying he was pretty sure he'd never play again in the NHL, but was very happy to sign with the Stars for another go.

He played in his first game as a Star vs. Buffalo on March 5, where he was held pointless with one shot and was even at plus/minus. He showed promise by sneaking in to attempt a few shots on net while Dallas had possession in the offensive zone, which probably indicates Lidster is already feeling at home back in the big league.

Modano Answers Critics With Two Hat Tricks In Three Games

After a poor performance and being challenged in the press by his head coach, Mike Modano lit the afterburners and went to work, scoring two hat tricks in three games.

The first hat trick came during a 5-1 win over Chicago on Feb. 19. The second, which also registered as the seventh of Modano's career, came during the first game of a home-and-home series vs. the Nashville Predators on Feb. 23 where the Stars held on to win 4-3.

Afterwards, Modano spoke to the media about his increased leadership role on the team.

"I think it's just a lot more responsibility on my part," Modano said. "It's something I never had in the first five or six years of my career. It's something that Bob Gainey and I talked about a lot."

Modano also indicated he wished he had listened more to Gainey during the lean years, when he was challenged to be a more complete, two-way player by the man for whom they say the Selke award was created for (Bob Gainey). The fact that Modano didn't listen to Gainey may have been one of the reasons Gainey stepped down as the Stars head coach.

With that aside, Modano has really turned the corner, and is now widely recognized as one of the league's best skaters, better scorers, and one of the best all-around complete players. He has received high praise by none other than linemate Brett Hull.

"From the minute I got here, we really hit it off," Hull said. "We have the same outlook on the game. We have the same philosophy on the game, we see the same things, and we know what each other likes out there."

Modano currently leads the team in points with 67 in 61 games played (25-42-67), and is a remarkable +20.

Carbo And Luds sit so Hitch Can Check Out The New Faces

With Hull out for a long period, Hitchcock began really shuffling the lines to fill in that void. As part of this, vets Guy Carbonneau and Craig Ludwig were scratches for the March 4 game vs. the NY Islanders. The two were scratched so that almost-forgotten forward Aaron Gavey and newly acquired defeseman Doug Lidster could get some ice time.

Gavey, who was part of the Bob Bassen to Calgary deal, impressed his team with a good performance.

"I think Aaron knows that this is a real opportunity for him," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I hope, for his sake and the team's sake, he takes advantage of it. He sure made a big step today. He looked like an NHL player out there."

Hitchcock also shuffled around the top lines by placing Jere Lehtinen on Joe Nieuwendyk's line.

"I thought the biggest difference was when we put Lehtinen with Verbeek and Nieuwendyk," Hitchcock said. "That was a very good line for us. I thought Gavey's line was excellent, and I thought Nieuwendyk's line, when we made that switch, had a lot of jump to it. Those two lines really carried the mail for us."

Never mind that the line was subsequently dismantled during the next game vs. Buffalo. Hitch will always keep 'em guessing when it comes to line placements.

State Of The Game

Dallas is currently sitting pretty with a 40-11-10 record for 90 freakin' points. This is head-and-shoulders above any other team in the NHL. With only 20 regular-season games left to play, the Stars will look to keep healthy, and stay on course with the recent re-focus on plain-old Stars hockey.

Which means they will win a lot of faceoffs by talented forwards, defensively allow typically less than 20 shots per game, forecheck a lot to capitalize on opponent's mistakes, and turn away most opponent scoring chances because of the league's best tandem of goalies in Belfour and Turek.

Although there are many trade rumors surrounding the team, including interest in signing a gritty forward such as Adam Graves and a ridiculous rumor that has Joe Nieuwendyk going to Vancouver for Mark Messier, it is my personal opinion that Lidster was it - there will be no further trades.

The Stars still need more depth at forward, but is their hopes that upcoming talent like Aaron Gavey and Jason Botterill will be enough to compensate for any loss during the playoffs, much the same way Dan Keczmer stepped up and made a valuable contribution during last year's series vs. Detroit.

Besides, there is no interest in trading away any current forwards - and the team would be ill-advised to deal the aforementioned young talent for a vet-for-hire. (Rent-a-vet?)

There's still a possibility that owner Tom Hicks will spring for an expensive free agent, and Bob Gainey is surely still making the rounds from his GM phonebook looking for a deal. But don't count on anything this close to the playoffs, the dealin' is probably done.

Other Notes:

*The Stars power play received new life during the close 4-3 win vs. St. Louis on March 7. Dallas was able to score twice with the man-advantage, including a beautiful over-the-shoulder wrist shot from Modano against Jim Carey. This breaks a six-game streak without scoring on the power play.

*Dallas just broke a ten-game unbeaten streak on the road with the 2-1 loss to Buffalo, and had posted another nine-game streak earlier in December-January. This is a clear indication the team plays much better off of their home ice, where conditions are so bad that Reunion Arena is being mentioned as the worst ice in the league.

*On that note, the Stars are clearly spending time and effort to make the conditions at least up to par for the upcoming playoffs. Dan Craig, who helped make the ice at Edmonton the league's best, gave Stars and Reunion Arena officials a maintenance program to develop a better ice surface.

Stars president Jim Lites said that dehumidifying machines will be brought in the first week in April, which is a month earlier than last year. Lites also said that the ice will be shaved soon so that it can be rebuilt with a smoother and harder surface.

"He was real helpful," Lites said. "We're going to do everything we can to improve the ice. Perception is reality. If there's a perception that the ice is bad, then it is."

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. At least, that's what they tell me in those "Drop the Demon Ripple!" meetings at the local rehab center.

* Joe Nieuwendyk scored the overtime game-winning goal last night at the Islanders to extend his current point streak to five games (3-3-6), his third point streak this season of at least four games. He has now scored the game-winning goal in each of the Stars last three outings after earning the game-tying goal on Tuesday at the Rangers and the game-winner on February 28 vs. Los Angeles. He is still first in the NHL in faceoffs (63.7%, 530 of 832) and is now fourth on the team in goals (15). Nieuwendyk picked up two assists against the Penguins on February 26 for his seventh multi-point game of the season.

* The Stars named Mike Modano the team's Player of the Month for February after he recorded 15 points (7- 8-15) in 12 games with two hat tricks and three game-winning goals. On February 23 at Nashville, he posted his third hat trick of the season and seventh of his career. He had two hat tricks in three games, having picked up three goals on February 19 vs. Chicago. This marks the first time in his career that he has recorded more than one hat trick in a single season and is the first time since the 1985-86 season that a Stars player has recorded three hat tricks in one year (Dino Ciccarelli and Scott Bjugstad). He now has 15 points (8-7-15) in his last 11 games and 28 points (12-16-28) in his last 22 games. He is first on the Stars in assists, points, plus/minus and shots (171) and is second in game-winning goals (4) and in goals (26).

* Having completed the first five months of the season, the Stars entered March with a league-best 38-11-9 record. The 11 losses as of the end of February equals the fewest losses for any team since the 1979-80 season when the Philadelphia Flyers were 41-5-14 heading into March. The 11 losses equals the total that Detroit had in 1995-96 after the month of February (46-11-4) when the Red Wings went on to post the NHL record for most wins in one season. The Stars did not suffer their tenth loss this year until their 48th game, which was a new Stars' record for the most games played before suffering ten losses.

* The Stars defense has allowed no more than 20 shots in six of their last nine games and 19 outings overall for the season. In games where they keep the shots below 20, the team has gone 13-4-2. For the year, the Stars are allowing an average of 23.2 shots per game, which is tied for the second lowest average in the NHL. They have allowed 30 or more shots only ten times and own a 6-1-3 record in those games.

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