Stars Are Finally Ready To Return To Play

It has been 16 days since the Dallas Stars left the ice with a 7-4 home win over the Minnesota Wild. Since then, they have seen games postponed for cross-border travel restrictions, had 11 players drop into the NHL COVID protocol list, and have not been able to practice much, let alone play any games. Now, as every player has been removed from protocol, the team looks to hit the ice running on Thursday against the Florida Panthers

Stars Will Try To Find Game Speed Quickly

The toughest part of this scenario is that most Stars players have not skated at all for nearly two weeks. While the team will have a few practices leading up to Thursday’s game, they will be facing a tough test against one of the best teams in the league and one that has played three games already since Christmas. 

“They’ll have three games before we play them,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said after practice Tuesday. “They’re in game shape, they’re in game flow, so they’re on top of their game and we need some time to find out where we are. Hopefully, on Thursday we’re on top of our game and we’re skating and managing the puck and we’re doing all the things we did well against Chicago and Minnesota.”

For Dallas, they have had success in similar situations in the past. When the season was shut down in March 2020, they made a magical run to the Stanley Cup Final. Last season, they marched to a 4-0-0 start after their season was delayed due to a similar outbreak. However, there is no doubt that the team will need some time to adjust and will likely need to weather the storm early in game one. The best strategy for them is to keep things simple until they find their legs, their confidence, and start making plays.

Joe Pavelski Dallas Stars-Stars Are Finally Ready To Return To Play
Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“The simpler the better,” Michael Raffl said. “If you simplify the game, you minimize turnovers, you minimize chances against. We should be in very good shape and well-rested, so there shouldn’t be any excuses.”

Stars Believe They Have Done All They Can To Prepare

The Stars are treating the few days leading up to Thursday as a mini training camp. They have had fast-paced practices, scrimmages, and simulated all game situations to prepare. Prior to returning to the ice, players in protocol were working to stay in shape as they waited for negative test results. The team delivered bikes and other exercise equipment so that they could work out in any way possible. While some players experienced symptoms and will need more time to recover, many were asymptomatic and should have no issue getting back to game speed. 

Related: Stars Look For Familiar Momentum When Season Resumes

In order for Dallas to have a good restart, everybody needs to do their part. From players working out at home and non-COVID players working hard on the ice, to coaches preparing for all scenarios and guiding the mental health of their team, everybody plays an important role. Now, all they can do is work hard in practice and try to get as close to game speed as they can. 

Esa Lindell Dallas Stars-Stars Are Finally Ready To Return To Play
Esa Lindell, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“We’ve done everything we can,” Bowness said. “There’s no substitute for playing games. It’s been 17 days, and it’s going to be noticeable. There’s no question the first period could be a struggle. Hopefully, it’s not. All I can tell you is that we’ve done everything we can, and the players have done what they can to keep the conditioning where it was before. But we’re going to be playing a very fast team, very good on the rush, and we’re going to have to have our legs underneath us.”

No matter what happens on Thursday night, the Stars are thankful to be back on the ice and close to returning to game action. They face a steep hill, now sitting sixth in the Central Division, but they will simply take it one game at a time. For now, it is all about Thursday night at American Airlines Center.

“I am pretty impatient here, said captain Jamie Benn. “Personally, I am ready to play.” 

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