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Desperate Stars begin home-and-home with Avs

by Corey Masisak
AVALANCHE (29-42-8) at STARS (40-28-11)


Last 10:
Colorado 3-7-0; Dallas 3-4-3

Season series:
Colorado took both of the meetings between the two teams so far back in November -- a 5-0 win in Denver and a 4-3 overtime victory in Dallas.

Big story: The Stars will continue their quest to track down either Chicago or Anaheim for a spot in the top eight of the Western Conference with back-to-back games against the Avalanche.

Team Scope:

Avalanche: Colorado has won only three times since defeating St. Louis on Feb. 22. That game was shortly following the franchise-altering trade between the two teams that sent Erik Johnson and Jay McClement to the Blues for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk. Johnson helped the Avalanche beat his former team with the go-ahead goal in that game, but Shattenkirk scored the game-winner Tuesday as the Blues returned the favor in a 3-1 win.

Johnson has 3 goals and 10 points in 21 games for the Avalanche since the trade. He's played more than 24 minutes in 16 of those games, including 28:06 against his former team Tuesday.

"[Johnson] was trying to be a difference-maker out there," coach Joe Sacco told reporters. "His play really jumped out at me."

Stars: Dallas was careening out of the playoff picture with six straight losses but the Stars have rallied with back-to-back victories. They moved back within two points of eighth place with a 3-0 win against Columbus on Tuesday and finish with three games against non-playoff contenders (back-to-back with Colorado and then Minnesota on Sunday).

"It doesn't matter who they're against at this time of year, they're all going to be intense games," coach Marc Crawford told reporters.

Three wins would get the Stars to 97 points -- and even that doesn't guarantee them a spot in the final eight. Dallas needs Anaheim to lose two of three (and at least one in regulation) to finish in front of the Ducks, who will hold the tiebreaker against them. Dallas would hold the tiebreaker against Chicago if both teams finish with the same number of points and non-shootout wins (the Blackhawks currently have one more).

Calgary cannot get to 97 points. The NHL record for most points by a non-playoff team is 95 -- the Avalanche missed with that many in 2006-07.

Who's hot:
Matt Duchene has 6 goals and 13 points for the Avalanche in his past 12 games. Duchene needs two goals to pass Paul Stastny for the most goals by a Colorado/Quebec player in his first two seasons since Mats Sundin had 56 in 1990-91 and 1991-92.

Injury report:
The Avalanche could be without as many as 11 players against Dallas. Ten are out for sure -- forwards Stastny (leg), David Jones (leg), Tomas Fleischmann (blood clots), TJ Galiardi (forearm) and Peter Mueller (concussion) and defensemen John-Michael Liles (concussion), Matt Hunwick (head), Kyle Quincey (shoulder), Kyle Cumiskey (whiplash) and Cameron Gaunce (finger). Defenseman Adam Foote (foot) is questionable. … Dallas will be without defenseman Nicklas Grossman (knee) and forward Brian Sutherby (back). Forward Adam Burish (leg) has missed 11 straight games but could return for the Stars.

Stat pack: There are 19 players in the League with more than 200 hits this season. Dallas is one of two teams to have three of those guys: Steve Ott (244), Brenden Morrow (213) and Stephane Robidas (210) are all among the top 16 in the League in hits. Robidas is fourth among defensemen. Carolina is the other team with three 200-plus guys.

Puck drop:
Is there a more unsung hero in the NHL this season than Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen? Once a top prospect but saddled with injury problems, Lehtonen has played fewer than 59 games in three of the past four seasons. He's been a rock for Dallas this season and if he plays the final three games as expected it will be a career-high 69 for him.

Lehtonen, who has started the past 21 games for Dallas, has a .916 save percentage and a 2.54 goals-against average for a team that is tied for 18th in the League in goals per game. The GAA is 0.25 per game better than his career best of 2.79 in 2006-07, when he played in 68 games and helped Atlanta to its lone playoff berth.

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