|Bruins, Stars meet on opposite ends of spectrum|
DALLAS -- When the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars meet Friday night at American Airlines Center, it's a game that will offer an interesting study in contrasts.
That's because the Bruins (45-17-10) head into Friday's tilt fresh off clinching a playoff spot for the ninth time in the past 11 seasons thanks to a 2-1 overtime loss at St. Louis on Wednesday.
"Well, it's step one, right? Going into the season, we wanted to make the playoffs, be a Stanley Cup contender, at some point hopefully you're a Stanley Cup favorite," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said postgame in St. Louis. "That's kind of where it goes from there, but right now we got in, so we're going to be a contender, right? That's the good news. Now going forward, we want to be in the best position possible."
Boston did not practice Thursday, but some players found their way onto the court at American Airlines Center to shoot baskets since the Utah Jazz had cancelled their morning shootaround in advance of a Thursday night game with the Dallas Mavericks.
The Bruins, who are 20-10-5 on the road, are led offensively by a pair of 70-point players in Brad Marchand (75 points) and David Pastrnak (70 points).
Boston is 8-2-2 in its past 12 games, 15-9-3 against the Western Conference and 5-4-2 against the Central Division.
And even though the Bruins crossed one pretty huge thing off their to-do list Wednesday by punching their ticket to the postseason, Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk knows there is still plenty of work to do, even with 10 games remaining in the regular season.
"Yeah, obviously it's exciting and we're looking forward to it, but we still got 10 more games left to play and we want to go into the playoffs playing the right way," Grzelcyk said after the St. Louis game.
Dallas (38-28-8), on the other hand, practiced Thursday, well at least most of the team hit the ice in Frisco, Texas. Defensemen Dan Hamhuis and John Klingberg, and center Tyler Seguin did not practice but all had excused absences with maintenance days.
The Stars will be playing at home, where they are 24-10-3, for the first time since a disastrous six-game road trip that saw them go 0-4-2.
Only Vancouver, who Dallas hosts Sunday, has a longer active losing streak right now as the Canucks, who beat the Stars 6-0 in Dallas earlier this season, have dropped seven straight.
Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock was asked after practice Thursday if he's happy to be home and to have a change of scenery, a query he answered in a roundabout way.
"I don't even look at it that way," Hitchcock said. "We had such great energy in the last four games and such great efforts throughout the hockey club, you feel like through the process that it's going to turn your way. Now, the shortness of what's left in the season kind of magnifies everything. At the end of the day, we know we need wins."
Another oft-discussed topic during Hitchcock's media scrum Thursday was injuries as he offered updates on several injured Stars.
Center Jason Spezza (back) remains sidelined and will be evaluated again in two weeks, about the same time goaltender Ben Bishop (knee) will be evaluated.
Defenseman Marc Methot (hand), who has been in and out of the lineup for much of the year, practiced with his teammates Thursday and could return for Friday's game.
Hitchcock said if Methot can't play, he would plug young defenseman Dillon Heatherington back into his defensive rotation.
Despite their recent struggles, the Stars are still only three points out of the second and final wild-card playoff spot in the West, which is currently occupied by the Los Angeles Kings, who have 87 points.
"I want to get there for the players because we need that experience. We need the experience of the next level and the next level," Hitchcock said. "The longer we stay in this thing, the better it's going to be for us franchise-wise and that's what we need."
Dallas is 14-8-8 against the Eastern Conference this season and considering that two of the three games on this homestand are against Eastern foes (Philadelphia), there's no time like the present for the Stars, who are 1-5-3 in their past nine games, to start righting the proverbial ship.