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GAME: Dallas Stars (40-24-13-0) at Vancouver Canucks (38-24-10-5).

TIME: Saturday, 10 p.m. EST.

The Dallas Stars have been one of the NHL's best teams during the past three months.

A foolish decision by goaltender Marty Turco may prevent them from carrying that momentum into the playoffs.

Dallas begins a four-game stretch without one of the league's best goalies when they face the Vancouver Canucks in a possible playoff preview.

With the Pacific Division title and home-ice in the opening round at stake, the Stars will be without Turco for the next four games after he was suspended for hitting Edmonton's Ryan Smyth in the mouth with his stick during the first period of a 4-3 overtime victory Wednesday.

Turco, the NHL leader with 36 wins, is a strong candidate to be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie. He also leads the league with 72 games and ranks second with 4,299 minutes.

Turco is eligible to return for final game of the regular season against Chicago on April 4.

"Any time you lose your best player, it's a big blow to the team," said Bill Guerin, the Stars' leading scorer. "It's not good timing, it never would be, but this is bad timing."

Turco insisted the hit was not intentional.

"It was just an instinctive move of my hand, it wasn't malicious on my part and I didn't mean for it to happen, but it did and this is where we are now," Turco said.

Veteran Ron Tugnutt figures to start all four games in Turco's absence. He has played in only seven games this season.

"I'm excited about it," Tugnutt said. "I know it's disappointing to not have Marty here, but I don't want people to say we can't still achieve our goals. I'm planning on winning some games."

Guerin's goal 3:11 into overtime lifted the Stars to their fourth straight win Wednesday and extended their unbeaten streak to 5-0-1.

Dallas, hoping to catch San Jose for the Pacific Division lead, is two points ahead of Vancouver in the race for fourth place in the Western Conference and home-ice in the first round of the playoffs.

The Stars have outscored the Canucks 9-3 in winning all three meetings this season. Dallas has won six of the past seven matchups.

Though Vancouver has won just two of its last nine (2-4-2-1), it is only three points behind struggling Colorado for the Northwest Division title.

Dan Cloutier returned to the lineup and needed to make just 15 saves for his fifth shutout of the season in a 1-0 victory over visiting Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Matt Cooke scored the game's only goal in the first period, helping Vancouver end a five-game winless streak (0-3-1-1).

"We don't have an awful lot of wins to show for the last week or two, so anytime you get a win it definitely helps everyone in this dressing room," said Cloutier, who missed the previous two games with a hip injury.

STANDINGS (through March 25): Stars - 93 points, 2nd place, 3 PB, Pacific Division. Canucks - 91 points, 2nd place, 3 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Stars - Guerin, 33 goals and 65 points; Jason Arnott, 36 assists; Steve Ott, 150 PIM. Canucks - Markus Naslund, 32 goals, 47 assists and 79 points; Brad May and Wade Brookbank, 133 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 25): Stars - Power play: 16.1 percent (50 for 311), 16th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.8 percent (248 for 289), 3rd. Canucks - Power play: 15.2 percent (55 for 363), 20th. Penalty killing: 85.7 percent (294 for 343), 4th.

GOALTENDERS: Stars - Tugnutt (3-3-0, 1 SO, 1.95 GAA); Jason Bacashihua (no appearances). Canucks - Cloutier (28-21-6, 5, 2.35); Johan Hedberg (8-6-2, 3, 2.51).

SEASON SERIES: Stars, 3-0.

LAST MEETING: March 18; Stars, 3-0. At Dallas, Arnott and Guerin each had a goal and two assists, helping the Stars stretch their franchise record, home-unbeaten streak to 16 games.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Stars - 15-18-5-0 on the road; Canucks - 18-13-7-0 at home.

Associated Press
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