The Dallas Stars go into the second half of the season hoping to string together some wins - and separate themselves from the rest of the Western Conference.
The battered Stars look to bounce back from a shaky end to the first half when they visit the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night to start a three-game road trip.
With 61 points, Dallas (28-20-5) is tied with San Jose atop the Pacific Division and for the third-most points in the league behind Ottawa (66) and Detroit (78). However, the Stars have struggled with consistency recently, going 5-8-1 before the break.
Included in that stretch were a pair of three-game skids and one three-game winning streak. The Stars closed out the first half with a 4-2 loss to Columbus on Tuesday and a 2-1 defeat to Buffalo on Thursday.
"The last couple of losses have been frustrating, that's for sure," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "But if you look at the last part of our schedule, it was a real grind. I think the break will do our team a lot of good, and hopefully we come back rejuvenated."
Injuries have played a significant role in Dallas' struggles.
Defenseman Sergei Zubov has missed four straight games and skipped the All-Star game because of groin and foot injuries. Zubov, who is second on the team with 31 assists, will not travel to Vancouver and is "week-to-week," according to Tippett.
But forward Jere Lehtinen, who hasn't played since Nov. 21 because of a sports hernia, is close to returning to the Stars. Lehtinen has been battling the flu in recent days, but practiced Monday and Tippett said he could play.
|Vancouver Canucks goaltender Curtis Sanford will likely start tonight's game versus the Dallas Stars at GM Place in Vancouver. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jimmy Jeong)|
"Everybody knows what he means to our team," Tippett said of Lehtinen, who has six goals and 13 assists in 21 games. "It certainly goes without saying. But you also have to remember he's been out for a couple months, so to think he's going to jump in and just be at his 'A' game wouldn't be right."
Both players could help the Stars' power play, which is 1-for-27 over the last six games.
"As the season goes on here, down the stretch, and we start to get a few guys back, hopefully we can have that consistency of playing well," center Stu Barnes said. "And as we add those guys as they get healthy, we'll hopefully be that much better."
The Stars have dropped three straight in Vancouver (26-19-5) since a 2-1 win on March 11, 2006 and have lost three of the last four overall to the Canucks.
Vancouver beat St. Louis 3-2 in a shootout on Wednesday, ending a four-game losing streak in its last game before the break. The Canucks also won for the first time in 19 chances when trailing after the second period.
Roberto Luongo made 26 saves and also ended a four-start losing streak. However, he did not play in the All-Star game to spend time with his pregnant wife at their Florida home and also received permission to sit out this game and rejoin the team when they start a road trip in Tampa Bay and Florida.
"For (Luongo) and the team, two points going into the break is a good feeling," said Daniel Sedin, who scored the lone shootout goal.
With Luongo out, Curtis Sanford should get the start. He's lost his last three starts, but is 4-3-1 with a 2.80 goals-against average this season, and 4-1-1 with a 2.95 GAA in six career starts versus the Stars.