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Dallas Stars vs. Philadelphia Flyers @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Dallas Stars (35-23-11-0) at Philadelphia Flyers (36-17-12-6).

TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.

Coming off a crucial victory in their pursuit of the Atlantic Division title, the Philadelphia Flyers look to make it five straight home wins when they face the Dallas Stars.

The Flyers took a huge step toward their second division title in three years with a 3-1 victory at New Jersey on Tuesday.

John LeClair set up goals by linemates Mark Recchi and Michal Handzus and scored into an empty net, helping the Flyers open a seven-point lead over the Devils in the Atlantic.

With wins over Dallas on Thursday and New Jersey at home Saturday, Philadelphia would have no worse than a nine-point lead with nine games remaining.

"Our goal was to win our division," Recchi said. "We've got 11 to go. We've got an opportunity, if we have a big week, to succeed."

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock was disappointed that his team followed an emotional victory over Ottawa on Friday with a 2-1 loss to trade-depleted Washington the next night.

"We're the wrong team to have a comfort level," Hitchcock said. "Our next challenge, quite frankly, is how do we respond after big wins? That's been one thing we haven't had a handle on all year. How we play Thursday against Dallas is the important thing. We've got to find a way to respond to a big win."

Robert Esche responded to a pivotal game, allowing only Turner Stevenson's third-period goal Tuesday. Esche has allowed five goals during a personal three-game win streak.

"That's what we talked about after the Ottawa game," Esche said. "That was a huge emotional win, and we had a big letdown in Washington. You're only as good as your last game, and we're looking forward to playing Dallas."

While lengthening its lead in the Atlantic, Philadelphia also kept pace with Tampa Bay in the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

LeClair, Handzus and Recchi have developed into the Flyers' most potent line, combining for 75 points in the last 28 games when on the ice as a unit.

Dallas' first road game in three weeks was a major disappointment, as it had a nine-game unbeaten streak (8-0-1) stopped in a 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh - the NHL's worst team.

The costly defeat kept the Stars from moving into a tie with San Jose for the Pacific Division lead. Dallas trails the Sharks by two points.

"Pittsburgh is playing for jobs, playing to be in the league, and tonight is when your best players have to stand up and should be accountable for the loss," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "We got behind early and chased them the whole game. It's unacceptable."

Tuesday was one of the worst games of the season for Marty Turco, who allowed four goals on 19 shots. Turco had surrendered eight goals during a personal 6-0-1 stretch.

Defenseman Chris Therien and right wing Valeri Bure, acquired in separate trades Tuesday, could make their Stars debuts Thursday.

Therien was acquired from Philadelphia after spending 10 years with the franchise.

STANDINGS: Stars - 81 points, 2nd place, 2 PB, Pacific Division. Flyers - 90 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Stars - Bill Guerin, 30 goals and 56 points; Sergei Zubov, 33 assists; Steve Ott, 146 PIM. Flyers - Recchi, 26 goals, 41 assists and 67 points; Donald Brashear, 185 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 10): Stars - Power play: 16.8 percent (47 for 280), 11th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.3 percent (220 for 258), 5th. Flyers - Power play: 23.5 percent (61 for 260), 1st. Penalty killing: 83.4 percent (252 for 302), 20th.

GOALTENDERS: Stars - Turco (32-20-11, 7 SO, 2.03 GAA); Ron Tugnutt (2-3-0, 2.43). Flyers - Esche (19-7-5, 2, 1.92); Sean Burke (14-20-6, 1, 2.85).


LAST MEETING: Dec. 29; 2-2 tie. At Dallas, Zubov and Pierre Turgeon scored power-play goals as the Stars rallied for a point.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Stars - 12-17-4-0 on the road; Flyers - 22-7-2-3 at home.

Associated Press
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