By Kris Smith
Stars take on Nottingham this Friday as they can look to close in on the last playoff spot by getting back to winning ways.
The first game between the two teams ended with Panthers claiming a 3-0 win on home ice, earlier this month. Goals from Luke Pither, Jeff Brown and Alexander Mokshantsev helped Nottingham to claim the points but Stars head coach, Omar Pacha insisted his side played well but just did not take their chances.
Yann Sauve and Dundee’s Cody Carlson dropped the gloves late in the game after tensions flared with Carlson landing a few punches before the Panthers’ defencemen fell to his knees.
Stars have lost their last six games and last weekend’s 7-6 overtime loss to Fife and 7-0 loss in Kirkcaldy was enough for Dundee’s conference rivals to secure the Gardiner Conference title. The Tayside team also lost 6-4 in Belfast and twice to Braehead Clan 4-3 and 4-1.
The Panthers come to Scotland on a two-game winning streak after beating Braehead 4-3 in overtime and Cardiff 7-2, both at home. Prior to that they had lost in Cardiff 7-3 and were beaten in Nottingham 4-0 by their rivals Sheffield, with their game beforehand being the 3-0 win over Dundee.
The key men to watch out for are Panthers’ Brett Perlini, he leads Nottingham in points with 15 goals and 22 assists from 42 league games this season. While Gabriel Lévesque leads Dundee with 12 goals and 33 assists from 44 league games this year.
Patrick Galbraith denied all 19 of Dundee’s shots when his side shutout the Stars 3-0 at home and he will be the likely starter on Friday night. The Dane has won 12 of the 18 games he has played, making 518 saves to achieve a save percentage of 92.3%.
Nottingham head coach Corey Neilson has also announced that he will be parting with the club at the end of the season. Neilson has been in charge of the Nottinghamshire side for ten years after he joined as a player in 2006 before taking up a coaching role two years later.
After a short injury spell, Mike Vaskivuo will travel with the team to Scotland but Dan Spang and Jordan Kelsall will not be in the squad. Meanwhile Dundee still await the return of both Riley Stadel and Johan Andersson.
Stars head coach, Omar Pacha, needs his side to be sharper defensively if they are going to be successful this weekend. He said: “As a club things have been good this week, I think we are playing okay hockey and we just have to get back to playing a better defensive game.
“Unfortunately, these past few games we conceded too many goals, so defensively we are going to have to be really sharp this weekend and we are up against two teams that can really score goals, especially Nottingham.
“We just have to find a way to win and sometimes it doesn’t need to be pretty, we just need to find a way to get the points and get crawling back up the standings.
“You look at this weekend’s games, if we have a good weekend we could easily be one point behind Braehead.
“So this is a huge weekend and we are coming into it with a lot of positivity, energy and excitement.
“We need to have more awareness without the puck and be stronger defensively and make smarter decisions. If we can do all of this, I think it will make us successful.
“At this time of the year, every game is tough, even they know it will be a tough encounter against us, so every game is going to be difficult and we expect that on Friday & Saturday.
“We are pushing for that last playoff spot, so every game is a playoff mindset game and we have to go into every single match wanting to get the points and having that mindset where we need to get them.”
Emerson Hrynyk says his side have to “build off the positives” if they are to going to be successful again. He said: “It felt great to be back in the line-up and playing with the boys last weekend, it was tough sitting out while the guys were making a push for the playoffs.
“We have to build off the positives of last games come back and simply play better defensively. I think if we tighten things up in front of our net and the blue lines we will be successful moving forward.
“Every game is huge right now, we are still 5 points back from the last playoff spot, so we are fighting for our lives, and we need points every weekend.
“Nottingham are a good team but it will be key for us to limit our mistakes and turn overs, I think that will be the key to getting a win on Friday.”
Friday’s game will face-off at 7:30 and tickets are available online and from the DIA box office. The ‘Kids for a Quid’ deal returns as the under 18 tickets price drop to just £1.