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Lightning-Stars Preview

GAME: Tampa Bay Lightning (23-20-3) at Dallas Stars (30-14-2).

TIME: Friday, 8:30 p.m. EST.

Two points out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot, the Tampa Bay Lightning look for the second win in three games on their current four-game road trip when they visit the Dallas Stars.

The defending Stanley Cup champions snapped an 0-for-40 power play drought in Tuesday night's 4-1 victory at Los Angeles. Martin St. Louis scored on Tampa Bay's first attempt of the night with the man advantage, and assisted on a later power-play goal by Vincent Lecavalier.

"Obviously, for us to get a goal in the first period on the power play helped the morale for everybody," St. Louis said. "But it doesn't feel like the monkey's off our back. There's still a lot of work to be done. We've got to get some wins together."

The Lightning have won just five of their last 14 games following an 11-2-1 stretch where they looked to be regaining their championship form.

"We've got a long way to go, and no one in this room panics," said goaltender John Grahame, who stopped 22 shots to earn his first win since Jan. 3. "We had a successful second half when we won the Cup, and that's what we're focusing on right now. Everybody played great tonight and it was a good team effort. That's what we were looking for and that's what we got."

The Stars have lost consecutive games in regulation for just the second time all season. After a 4-2 defeat Monday at Montreal, Dallas returned home Wednesday and suffered its first-ever loss to the Atlanta Thrashers 5-2.

Dallas took a 2-0 lead Monday on power-play goals by Jason Arnott and Mike Modano, but let the lead slip away as the Thrashers scored three times in a 7:38 span of the second period.

"There was a lot of loose coverage in our zone," Modano said. "Guys got beat to the net. There's some little things that we got away with and tonight it caught up with us."

Goaltender Marty Turco missed Wednesday's game with a lower back injury, but could return in time to face the Lightning. Johan Hedberg stopped 16 of 21 shots in Turco's place, losing for the first time since Nov. 2.

"I thought (Hedberg) made some good saves in the second period when they had a lot of pressure, but I think he was like some other parts of our game, just not quite enough to win," Stars coach Dave Tippett said.

The Stars are 17-4-3 all-time against Tampa Bay, and have won five of the last six meetings.

STANDINGS: Lightning - 49 points, 3rd place, 17 PB, Southeast Division. Stars - 62 points, 1st place, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Lightning - Lecavalier, 19 goals; Vaclav Prospal, 33 assists and 50 points; Pavel Kubina, 68 PIM. Stars - Jere Lehtinen, 24 goals; Sergei Zubov, 32 assists; Modano, 47 points; Steve Ott, 97 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Lightning - Power play: 13.5 percent (37 for 274), 27th in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.2 percent (190 for 231), 14th. Stars - Power play: 16.2 percent (48 for 296), 20th. Penalty killing: 84.1 percent (248 for 290), 9th.

GOALTENDERS: Lightning - Grahame (17-14-1, 2 SO, 2.86 GAA); Sean Burke (6-5-2, 0, 2.66). Stars - Turco (22-12-2, 3, 2.52); Hedberg (8-2-0, 0, 2.82).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Stars, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Nov. 20, 2003; Stars, 2-1. At Tampa, Fla., Modano had one goal and one assist, and Turco made 26 saves for Dallas.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lightning - 11-11-2 on the road; Stars - 14-9-1 at home.

Associated Press

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