Stars-Devils Preview

After flipping the calendar to 2015 well immersed in the bottom half of the league, Dallas is beginning 2016 as the NHL's front-runner.

New Jersey was down there with the Stars, and while the Devils haven't had quite the esteemed turnaround, they enter Saturday night's visit from Dallas looking every bit the part of a playoff team.

The Stars (28-8-3) beat Nashville 5-1 on Thursday to open a nine-point lead in the Western Conference and move one ahead of East-leading Washington. A season after chasing a playoff spot and failing to get there, coach Lindy Ruff is facing new challenges.

"My biggest challenge right now is to keep this team fresh, excited to get on the ice. You want to keep the legs jumping," Ruff told the team's official website. "When we are playing this number of games, and you are having success, it is just trying to remind them shift in and shift out to do the little things right. When we do, we have a lot of success."

Tyler Seguin, who has four goals in as many games, scored twice against the Predators to move into a tie with Patrick Kane for second in the league with 23 goals. That's one behind teammate Jamie Benn, who also scored Thursday and is riding a seven-game point streak.

The focus now shifts to a three-game road trip, and the Stars went 2-2-3 away from home in December after a 10-2-0 start. They play the New York Islanders on Sunday and Rangers on Tuesday.

"We know each team has played well, and they've all had different runs at different times of the season," Ruff said. "We are going to play those first two games in less than 24 hours, and that will be three games in less than four days. In the big picture, with the way the ice time was spread out (Thursday) night, we are looking to keep utilizing four lines and have everybody involved."

Dallas won both meetings last season, though the teams have split four since the start of 2014-15 and they've all been one-goal games.

New Jersey (19-14-5) ended the year with back-to-back wins, including a 3-0 victory in Ottawa on Wednesday with Mike Cammalleri scoring twice.

The Devils have moved into the East's top eight despite not winning more than two consecutive games since late October.

"We'd like to get on a roll here. It was big for us to win two in a row. Three would feel a lot better than two," Cammalleri told the team's official website. "We've been kind of flirting in and out of that (playoff spot) all year, so I don't know what that does or doesn't do. We'd like to really be proud of the way we can play our game, and hopefully that means some results for us on a consistent basis."

Cory Schneider hasn't won two straight starts since mid-November but had 36 saves Wednesday in his second shutout in six games, over which he's gone 3-2-1 with a 1.82 goals-against average.

"It seems like every team that makes the (playoffs) goes on a run at some point, an extended four-, five- or six-game winning streak or multiple three-, four-game winning streaks down the stretch here," said Schneider, who will start. "If we want to put ourselves in a position to be in the playoffs towards the end of the year here, we have to start stringing these together."

That'll require some home success. The Devils play three of their next four in New Jersey, but they've scored 19 goals on a 3-4-2 home span.

Dallas' Antti Niemi has been even better than Schneider lately, posting a 1.44 GAA over a 4-1-1 span. He's 4-1-0 with a 1.76 GAA against New Jersey.

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