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Pacific: Turco will be Stars' main man playoff push

by John Kreiser
With their offense in a slump following an injury to center Brad Richards, the Dallas Stars are going to need top-flight goaltending if they hope to make the playoffs in the tightly packed Western Conference.

That means Marty Turco needs to step up his game again.

"I think the focus now, more than ever, it's going to be a lot on Marty's shoulders and team defense," noted team captain Brenden Morrow, who's been out since November with a knee injury but hopes to return during the playoffs -- if the Stars can get that far. "Everyone needs to have that 1-0 mindset to win hockey games. Where we've been successful on most nights, we've had that mentality."

It's been an up-and-down season for Turco, whose fortunes have mirrored those of the Stars.

When he struggled for most of the first half of the season, the Stars languished at or near the bottom of the conference. When he got hot, allowing 19 goals in a 10-game stretch, so did the team -- going 8-2-0 and climbing as high as fifth. He's been good during a recent 3-7-0 slide, but not good enough to win on many nights -- just like the Stars.

"Sometimes you play the exact same way and goals happen to go in and you don't get the one you need at the other end," Turco said. "There are some things you can't control."

Dallas hasn't been scoring much during the past couple of weeks -- just 17 goals in the past 10 games. That hasn't given Turco much leeway.

Nor has the lack of a viable backup. Before Tobias Stephan played in Sunday's 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh, Turco had started a franchise-record 32 consecutive games. The workload may have taken its toll. Turco wasn't as sharp as usual in his past four games -- all home losses -- before getting a day off.

"I don't think he's played as well the last couple of games he played, but before that, we went through a stretch where he played very well," coach Dave Tippett said. "We had a stretch of games where we were giving up probably more chances than we would have liked and he was cleaning up all the messes.  The last couple of games, we couldn't find ways to score and I think he could have played better."

The Stars will continue to need Turco to be at his absolute best down the stretch -- and will ride him as long as they can without burning him out. 

"We'll just continue to watch him and see where he's at," Tippett said. "If his game is solid and he's not tired, why wouldn't you play him? He gives us our best chance to win. We need everybody playing at their top level to give us a chance to win."

No big deals — Unlike the past two seasons, when he made big deals at the trade deadline, San Jose GM Doug Wilson wasn't planning to tinker with the team at the top of the overall NHL standings.

Wilson dealt draft picks in 2007 to bring in forward Bill Guerin and made perhaps the biggest deal on last year's Deadline Day when he landed All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell. But after some significant off-season retooling, Wilson said he's reluctant to make major changes to the Sharks this season.

"We built this team and did a lot of the heavy lifting in the summer time," Wilson said. "We've been very active -- just earlier."

After losing Campbell to free agency, Wilson made a pair of big acquisitions during the summer, reeling in defenseman Dan Boyle in a trade with Tampa Bay and signing Rob Blake from Los Angeles as a free agent. The revamped defense corps has gone from one of the NHL's weakest offensive groups to one of its best.

They also added some grit and experience by signing 43-year-old Claude Lemieux, who's been out of the game for more than five years. Wilson's move to sign Lemieux drew reactions ranging from laughter to incredulity, but Lemieux earned his way back to the NHL in January and has been a competent fourth-liner.

The Sharks also made a move behind the bench, replacing Ron Wilson with Detroit assistant Todd McLellan. All McLellan has done is lead the Sharks to a record-setting start and the best record in the League entering the final five weeks of the season.

But even with the NHL's best team, Wilson wouldn't completely rule out a big deal.

"You still take and make calls," he said. "You always listen."

Mighty Duck -- At 5-foot-9, Anaheim's Andrew Ebbett looks more like a Duckling. But the smallest Duck has been making a big impact in his first NHL season.

The 26-year-old undrafted free agent, who signed with the Ducks in the summer of 2007, has been putting up good numbers since his recall from Iowa of the AHL. In 30 games, he has 4 goals and 17 assists for 21 points -- including a goal and two assists in a 4-3 win at Dallas on Feb. 27. His second assist came when he stole the puck from Stars rookie James Neal and found Teemu Selanne for the game-winner midway through the third period.

"He was very patient," Selanne, the future Hall of Famer, said of Ebbett on the game-winning play. "He was waiting and waiting, and it was a great pass. If he would have passed to me earlier, I would have tried to go far side. But I knew (Dallas goalie Marty) Turco was already there, so I just tried to hit the five-hole."

It was another good play by Ebbett, who played four years at the University of Michigan and one with Ottawa's AHL affiliate in Binghamton before signing with the Ducks. He played three games with the Ducks last season, was one of the last cuts in training camp, and got the call to Anaheim just before Christmas.

While Bobby Ryan has gotten most of the headlines, Ebbett has quietly earned a place among the top six forwards, taking over the No. 2 center role.

"He's a small player in stature, but he plays big on the ice," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said of Ebbett, who entered the week with eight points in his previous seven games. "He gets knocked down, and he gets right back up. I call him the Energizer bunny. He's one of those guys that just doesn't quit."

Skating for charity — Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar had 19:41 of ice time in the Kings' game at Detroit on Feb. 27 -- and paid for every second.

Kopitar was one of 28 NHL players from 25 teams who agreed to donate $100 for every minute of ice time they logged during a game this weekend. All of the donations will go to the international humanitarian organization Right To Play.

"It's obviously a good cause, and I was approached by the guys around the League basically… so in one way it's an honor for me to be selected, and like I said, it's definitely for a good cause and I liked to do it," he said.

Kopitar is donating roughly $1,900 in the name of his father, Matjaz, who Kopitar listed as his honored coach/role model on whose behalf he would make the donation.

The only bad part of the night for Kopitar was the outcome -- the Wings survived an early blitz by the Kings and held on for a 2-1 win, part of three losses in four nights for Los Angeles on last week's road trip.

"We'll just continue to watch him and see where he's at. If his game is solid and he's not tired, why wouldn't you play him? He gives us our best chance to win. We need everybody playing at their top level to give us a chance to win."
-- Dave Tippett on goalie Marty Turco

Kopitar didn't score against the Wings, but did get his 20th of the season two days later in a 4-2 loss at Chicago.

Ice chips — San Jose's Claude Lemieux sat out the Sharks' game at Ottawa on Thursday after playing 15 consecutive games since Jan. 20, when he returned to the NHL after a 5-1/2-year absence. He was back in the lineup two nights later at Montreal, where he won the first of his four Stanley Cups as a rookie in 1986. … The Sharks and Detroit Red Wings, the top two teams in the West, wound up splitting their season series, with each team winning twice at home, including Detroit's 4-1 win on Feb. 25. "I guess the race from now to the end of the year is important," San Jose coach Todd McLellan, an assistant last season in Detroit, said after the loss. … Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov matched a career high with 43 saves on Feb. 26 at Nashville -- but was one of the few Coyotes to play well in a 4-1 loss. "Our effort was not very good, and it's something we have to address and get it out of our locker room," coach Wayne Gretzky said. "The first period would have been 5-0 had it not been for our goaltender." … Phoenix penalty-killers struggled badly in February. The Coyotes allowed opponents only 34 power-plays in 12 games, but surrendered 12 goals -- giving their penalty-killers a success rate of 64.7 percent. … Dallas defenseman Matt Niskanen ended an 18-game goal drought by scoring in the Stars' 4-3 loss to Anaheim on Feb. 28. The point was his 26th of the season, a career best. … Another Stars defenseman, Stephane Robidas, has been in the wrong place at the wrong time too often -- he's tops on the team and among the NHL's leaders by being in the penalty box for eight opposition power-play goals. He's been the man in the box for five of the last 15 man-advantage goals allowed by Dallas since Dec. 31. … Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown missed two games for a good cause -- to be with his wife, Nicole, for the birth of their second child. He returned on Feb. 27. … L.A. rookie defenseman Drew Doughty got the first shootout goal of his career when he scored the game-winner in a 2-1 victory at Minnesota on Feb. 24. The Kings won the shootout 2-1, with both goals scored by defensemen. Jack Johnson had the other -- his second successful attempt in two weeks. … Boston native Ryan Whitney got to play his first game with Anaheim in his hometown -- the Ducks' first game after the deal was in Boston. Whitney happened to be in town attending to a family matter when he got the news that he had been traded. "We actually had to fly somebody with his equipment from Pittsburgh," coach Randy Carlyle said. "It's a lot harder with the new regulations with TSA. You can't fly a bag alone." … Anaheim split its 12 games in February, but the wins were a lot closer than the losses. The Ducks went 6-6-0 despite being outscored 42-31.

Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report
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