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First-place Stars visit Carolina

by Brian Compton
STARS (13-8-1) at HURRICANES (10-10-3)


Last 10: Dallas 5-4-1; Carolina 4-3-3.

Season Series: This is the first of two meetings between the teams. They'll meet again at American Airlines Center on Dec. 10.

Big Story: While many thought the Pacific Division would boil down to Los Angeles and San Jose, here are the Dallas Stars, who enter Monday's action locked in a first-place tie with the Phoenix Coyotes. Behind some stellar goaltending by Kari Lehtonen (11-7-1, 2.70 goals-against average), the Stars have reeled off three straight victories and can gain sole possession of first place with a victory on Monday night.

"Last year we got a taste of his potential, and this year he's just been tremendous," Stars defenseman Matt Niskanen said of Lehtonen, who was acquired last season from Atlanta. "He competes on every puck and is fundamentally sound. You don't have to worry when you have a goalie that is playing really solid behind you. The whole team has confidence in him, and he's given the whole team confidence to do what we need to do with the puck. We don't have to be nervous."

Team Scope:

Stars: Dallas made it three in a row on Saturday night when it completed a home-and-home sweep of the St. Louis Blues with a 2-1 victory at the Scottrade Center. Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson scored for the Stars, while Lehtonen made 35 saves. Dallas rallied in both of its wins against the Blues.

"I knew we have that in this group," Lehtonen said. "If we go down one or two goals, I just need to keep playing the same way and not get rattled and just believe in this group. Against a team that you battle for the playoffs, getting four points against them is great. We can build on this and move forward."

Hurricanes: Sure they would have liked a victory, but the fact that Eric Staal's goal with 7.3 seconds remaining prevented the Hurricanes from leaving Verizon Center empty-handed has to have them in a somewhat decent mood. Staal's goal erased a 2-1 deficit in what turned out to be a 3-2 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals.

"We battled back against a good team and fought hard," Staal said. "It's a tough way to lose. We've got to find a way to win the shootout. We managed to get a point, but it would have been nice to get a win at the end."

Who's Hot: Brad Richards leads the Stars with 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in 22 games, while Eriksson is 10-14-24 and is tops with a plus-12 rating. … Staal's goal on Sunday was his 11th of the season. He also had an assist and played more than 26 minutes.

Injury Report: Stars defenseman Mark Fistric (groin) is on the injured reserve list. … Carolina is boasting a healthy lineup.

Stat Pack: Dallas is 5-1-1 in its last seven games and is now 5-5 on the road. … Sunday marked the 1,000th NHL game coached by Carolina's Paul Maurice. Maurice is the 19th coach to reach the milestone, and the youngest at 43 years and 302 days old.

Puck Drop: "We've been good, but we've got to be better. We've got to be better because the Western Conference is better and everybody is playing and performing well." -- Dallas Stars coach Marc Crawford
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