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First-place Stars try again to solve Sharks

by Steve Hunt
DALLAS -- As good as the Dallas Stars (36-26-5, 77 points) have been during their current eight-game point streak, a run where they have gone 7-0-1 and taken 15 of a possible 16 points, on Thursday night at American Airlines Center they face a team they have yet to defeat this season in the San Jose Sharks (33-24-8, 74 points).

Dallas heads into tonight's Pacific Division battle just two days removed from an impressive 5-2 win at Vancouver on Tuesday, a victory that snapped a six-game losing streak on the Canucks' home ice.

That triumph gave the Stars a perfect 3-0-0 record in their road swing through Western Canada last week as they also won at Edmonton and Calgary earlier in the trip.

First-year coach Glen Gulutzan knows the reason for his club's recent upswing is actually a pretty simple one.

"Our guys are competing and it's probably well-documented they're a real tight group and they're playing for each other," Gulutzan said. "That's an important thing this time of year."

In their first three meetings with the Sharks this season, Dallas has been outscored 14-5 by San Jose, a trend Gulutzan obviously wants to see end tonight.

"We haven't really focused on San Jose other than our pre-scout and what they're doing. We've really isolated ourselves to what we need to do and the way we need to approach games. But certainly facts are facts and we know that we haven't beat them," Gulutzan said. "Today we're certainly focused on what our job is, what our game plan is and what it has been the last month. All that is just a distraction, we're focused on the way we need to play tonight."

Stars captain Brenden Morrow did go through his first morning skate since early February but he will miss a 17th straight game with an upper-body injury. He looks like a strong possibility to return to the ice on Saturday against Anaheim.

"Morrow's close, but not yet -- but I would say Brendan is a 60/40 for to play against Anaheim. If not, he'll play against Minnesota [next week]," Gulutzan said.

Second-line winger Steve Ott did not skate this morning due to an illness that continues to linger from the trip to Western Canada, but his coach isn't worried about the gritty forward being ready to go tonight.

"Otter's been sick the whole Western Canada trip and so we'll see how he is tonight, but he'll play," Gulutzan said. "He's getting better."

The Sharks are currently on a three-game losing streak, having lost 3-2 to Edmonton in overtime on Tuesday. But despite their current struggles, they aren't a team the Stars players are about to take lightly.

"They've been playing really well against us this year. We have to see if we can beat these guys," Dallas winger Loui Eriksson said. "It's going to be a hard-working game tonight again. We know they're right behind us in the standings. These two points are really huge for us to get, and we're going to do everything we can to get those."

And for 2012 All-Star center Jamie Benn, the key to getting both points tonight could be in how they approach their first game back after such a successful three-game road trip.

"Yeah, I think we've got to approach tonight like it's a road game. These first home games coming back after a road trip are pretty tough. I think we've got to play it as a road game -- play it the right way and go after them right away," Benn said.

Antti Niemi figures to start in goal for San Jose tonight, while it appears Dallas will go with Kari Lehtonen.

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