The Dallas Stars feel good about themselves after using February to make a push for the postseason. They also know that all they have accomplished is to make their next stretch of games decisive.
The Stars begin a three-game trip Friday night as they look to improve to 3-0-0 this season against the Edmonton Oilers.
Dallas (33-26-5) saw its four-game win streak end with Wednesday's 4-3 shootout loss to Pittsburgh. The contest capped an 8-5-3 month that has the Stars among the teams battling for one of the Western Conference's final playoff spots.
"This is going to be a grind," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "If we think there aren't going to be ups and downs in the next 18 games, then we're kidding ourselves. When you look back in retrospect, it was a good month for us."
The Stars are getting healthier, with All-Star winger Jamie Benn returning Wednesday from a six-game absence while recovering from a thigh injury. Benn scored his 18th goal.
"The guys are learning how to win and I think we're coming together as a group and they were playing great the last few games before I came back," Benn said.
Dallas will visit Edmonton (25-32-6) for the first time after two 4-1 home victories over the Oilers. This trip gets harder when the Stars head to Calgary and Vancouver, but they aren't about to overlook this stop.
"We've gotta get some points," Gulutzan said. "We've got a big game Friday. We're not looking too far ahead, game by game here."
Gulutzan has indicated that Kari Lehtonen will get his 18th start in the last 20 games. Lehtonen posted a 2.10 goals-against average over the last month and is 5-1-0 with a 2.17 GAA against the Oilers in six starts with Dallas.
The Oilers have showed some signs of improvement, as they're six points shy of their league-worst totals of 62 the past two seasons.
Edmonton, though, is still far away from competing with elite teams. The Oilers fell behind by three goals and never recovered in Wednesday's 5-2 home loss to St. Louis.
"There are two levels of teams out there, St. Louis and then there is us," coach Tom Renney said.
Renney hinted there would be lineup changes Friday.
"I think that for sure we'll probably get (Andy) Sutton back in," Renney said. "I think in terms of the line makeups, because we only have 12 forwards, we'll move some people around."
Nikolai Khabibulin will start in goal after being cleared to return after missing five games with a groin injury.
"Felt really good today, didn't have any issues so I think I felt as close to 100 percent as could be," Khabibulin said after Thursday's practice.
Dallas has killed 26 of 28 penalties in its last eight games and all eight this season against Edmonton, which is among the NHL leaders with a 21.7 power-play percentage.
Center Mike Ribeiro has 11 points in an eight-game run, the longest by a Star this season. It's his best since an 11-game streak Dec. 29, 2010-Jan. 21, 2011.