With their playoff position nearly secure, the Dallas Stars' top priority now is building momentum for the postseason.
The Stars look to win consecutive games for the first time in over a month Friday night when they host the Phoenix Coyotes in the back end of a home-and-home series.
|Mike Modano and Mattias Norstrom would like to go into the playoffs on a winning note. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)|
Although they will finish no worse than fifth place in the Western Conference, the Stars (44-29-7) haven't been at their best over the past month, a troubling sign for a team that hasn't advanced beyond the first round the last three years.
Dallas led the Pacific Division for much of this season before a 2-7-2 skid that began on March 1 allowed San Jose to take control and coast to the division title.
The Stars have been better lately, picking up at least one point in four straight games (2-0-2), including a 4-2 victory at Phoenix on Thursday.
Brenden Morrow scored and added an assist, and Johan Holmqvist made 21 saves in a rare start as Dallas won for the third time in 12 games (3-7-2).
"I felt pretty good out there," said Holmqvist, who was making his first appearance since March 15. "It's been a while since I played but it didn't really feel like that."
The Stars will face defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs, though they still could catch the fourth-place Ducks and gain home ice.
"You've got to be careful what you wish for," Morrow said. "All of these teams are tough and we're going to have to go through them sometime."
A home-and-home sweep of the Coyotes (37-37-6) would give the Stars consecutive wins for the first time since a four-game streak from Feb. 22-28, as well as a split of the eight-game season series.
Dallas has lost three in a row at home - all in regulation. The Stars haven't dropped four consecutive home games in regulation since Feb. 2-11, 1996.
|Marty Turco will be back in net, trying to snap a personal three-game home losing streak. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)|
Marty Turco is expected to be back in net Friday after Holmqvist made his second start for the Stars. Turco is 1-4-2 with a 2.67 goals-against average in his last seven overall appearances, including three straight home losses.
He is 9-5-0 with one tie, a 2.29 GAA and two shutouts in 17 career games against Phoenix.
After exceeding expectations by remaining in the playoff race until the final week of the season, the youthful Coyotes have struggled to a 1-7-1 record in their last nine games.
"We physically skated into a wall about 15 games ago," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "It was partly because of youth, I think, and partly because for 45 games every game we played seemed like playoff game. You can't play like that."
Phoenix, which will miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season, has been outscored 11-3 during a three-game losing streak.
The Coyotes need two points in their final two games to reach 82 for the first time since 2001-02, when they had 95 en route to their last playoff berth.
Shane Doan assisted on Keith Ballard's third-period goal Thursday, giving him four goals and seven assists in six games this season against the Stars.