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At the Rink: Avalanche at Stars

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- The Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars enter their game Tuesday at American Airlines Center four points out of the second Western Conference wild-card berth into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which makes their game Tuesday, the first of three between them in February, crucial for both teams.

"I'm afraid that [our playoff-like mentality] started like six, seven weeks ago," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "Pretty sure it started for them [Colorado] too. When you get that far behind that, it's desperation. We want to keep crawling up and these games against each other are games where you can separate and make up ground."

Dallas (23-19-7), which was won two straight, likely will have veteran left wing Erik Cole back on the ice after he missed the past three games because of an upper-body injury. Cole will skate on the second line, with center Jason Spezza and right wing Ales Hemsky.

"I think that line was going well [before Cole's injury]," Ruff said. "He was really going well. I think he was a big reason why that line was having success; his north/south speed, his physicality. So I'm hoping that he can step right in playing the way he was before he went out."

Cole's return meant left wing Shawn Horcoff was back in his customary spot on the fourth line, alongside center Vernon Fiddler and left wing Colton Sceviour.

Ruff made one change to his defense pairings, bringing Jyrki Jokipakka, who was recalled from Texas of the American Hockey League on Monday, into the second pairing alongside Trevor Daley. He'll replace David Schlemko, who likely will be a healthy scratch.

Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen was first off the ice and will start a seventh consecutive game.

Colorado (21-18-11) has won two of its past three games (2-0-1). Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said he is keeping his forward lines and defense pairings intact from a 3-0 win against the Nashville Predators on Friday at the Pepsi Center.

Roy said that right wing Jarome Iginla (leg), who missed practice Monday, and left wing Alex Tanguay, who took a shot to the hand in the Nashville game, will play against Dallas.

Roy knows how important the game Tuesday is but wasn’t calling it a must-win following morning skate.

"They're all important games for our team when you're chasing a playoff spot," Roy said. "I think the best way to do that is, unfortunately and it sounds very cliché, but it's one day at a time, be even-keel and be ready for those games."

Goalie Semyon Varlamov was first off the ice for Colorado and will start a seventh straight game.

Here are the projected lineups:

AVALANCHE

Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Nathan MacKinnon

Alex Tanguay - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Dennis Everberg

Maxime Talbot - Marc-Andre Cliche - Daniel Briere

Jan Hejda - Zach Redmond

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Brad Stuart - Nick Holden

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: Stefan Elliott

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (knee), Erik Johnson (knee), Jamie McGinn (back), Borna Rendulic (leg), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

STARS

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Eaves

Erik Cole - Jason Spezza - Ales Hemsky

Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Ryan Garbutt

Shawn Horcoff - Vernon Fiddler - Colton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg

Jyrki Jokipakka - Trevor Daley

Jordie Benn - Jason Demers

Kari Lehtonen

Jussi Rynnas

Scratched: David Schlemko

Injured: Patrik Nemeth (arm), Valeri Nichushkin (hip)

Status report: Elliott has not played since being recalled from Lake Erie of the American Hockey League on Jan. 29. … Rynnas was recalled from Texas of the American Hockey League on Tuesday, with Anders Lindback being sent to the AHL for a conditioning assignment. Lindback hasn't played since Jan. 15.

Who's hot: Iginla needs one goal to tie Mark Recchi for 19th on the all-time NHL goals lists with 561. … Klingberg, named NHL Rookie of the Month for January, had a career-high four points Saturday at the Winnipeg Jets.

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