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At the Rink: Avalanche at Stars

by Steve Hunt / NHL.com

DALLAS -- The Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars each have 63 points and are eight points behind the Minnesota Wild for the second Western Conference wild-card berth into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, making their game at American Airlines Center on Friday a crucial one for both teams.

Dallas (27-25-9) has lost four straight games (0-3-1) and is 12-12-7 at home. But coach Lindy Ruff feels that even though Dallas is 0-3-1 against the Avalanche this season, the margin between them is small.

"In the last game in this building, basically they have nothing and we let them score with under 20 seconds left and they end up winning it in the extra time," Ruff said. "It's making sure that if we have that lead we can hold it, and if we're behind it's getting that key goal."

Ruff shuffled his lines at practice Thursday and went with the same combinations at morning skate. His top line will consist of left wing Erik Cole, center Jason Spezza and right wing Ales Hemsky, who will play after missing practice earlier in the week because of an injury.

The second line consists of captain Jamie Benn at left wing, Cody Eakin at center and Brett Ritchie at right wing.

In the six games since Tyler Seguin sustained a knee injury Feb. 13 against the Florida Panthers, Benn has four goals and six assists, including his first NHL hat trick in a 4-1 win at the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 17.

"He's played good hockey," Ruff said of Benn. "He really has tried to lead. He's done it on the physical side. He's done it on the offensive side. Scoring-wise, in Tyler's absence he's really taken the bull by the horns and been the guy that we've looked to."

Dallas' third line consists of left wing Antoine Roussel, center Vernon Fiddler and right wing Ryan Garbutt. The fourth line is left wing Curtis McKenzie, center Shawn Horcoff and right wing Colton Sceviour.

Ruff is keeping his defensive pairs the same from the 4-2 loss at the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

Backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth started at the Minnesota Wild on Sunday and at Winnipeg on Tuesday, a game starter Kari Lehtonen missed because of an undisclosed health issue.

Lehtonen was first off the ice for Dallas at the morning skate and it appears he will make his first start since Feb. 21, a 7-6 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy is keeping his forward lines identical from a 5-2 loss at the Nashville Predators on Tuesday with one minor exception. On the fourth line Daniel Briere will line up at left wing alongside right wing Cody McLeod and center Marc-Andre Cliche; Paul Carey, who had been on the right side of the fourth line, will be scratched.

Goalie Semyon Varlamov was first off the ice at morning skate and will start a 17th consecutive game for Colorado.

Colorado (26-24-11) is playing the first part of a crucial back-to-back that will see the Avalanche host the Wild on Saturday at the Pepsi Center.

But Avalanche center Matt Duchene isn't focused on the bigger picture, only on beating the Stars.

"I don't think we should look at it if we lose what happens," he said. "It's got to be when we win we're going to be right there. We're taking it one game at a time. We're not worried about tomorrow. We're worried about tonight right now."

Here are the projected lineups:

AVALANCHE

Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Nathan MacKinnon

Maxime Talbot - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Alex Tanguay - John Mitchell - Dennis Everberg

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Daniel Briere

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Jan Hejda - Zach Redmond

Brad Stuart - Nick Holden

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: Paul Carey

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

STARS

Erik Cole - Jason Spezza - Ales Hemsky

Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Brett Ritchie

Antoine Roussel - Vernon Fiddler - Ryan Garbutt

Curtis McKenzie - Shawn Horcoff - Colton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg

Jyrki Jokipakka - Trevor Daley

Jordie Benn - Jason Demers

Kari Lehtonen

Jhonas Enroth

Scratched: David Schlemko

Injured: Patrick Eaves (concussion), Travis Moen (upper body), Valeri Nichushkin (hip), Tyler Seguin (knee)

Status report: Briere returns after being a healthy scratch for the past six games. … Schlemko will be a healthy scratch for a 13th consecutive game.

Who's hot: O'Reilly has six assists in his past six games. … Jamie Benn has an eight-game point streak.

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