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Penguins forward Neal could return vs. Stars

by Jon Lane

STARS (32-24-11) at PENGUINS (44-19-4)


Last 10: Dallas 6-3-1; Pittsburgh 4-4-2

Season series: This is the second of two games between the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins. Kari Lehtonen's second shutout in three games led the Stars to a 3-0 win on Jan. 26. The Stars also head to Pittsburgh for the first time since Nov. 11, 2011, a 3-1 Penguins win, and are winless in their past five games at Consol Energy Center.

Big story: The Stars continue their three-game road trip Tuesday in Pittsburgh competing with the Phoenix Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets for the second Western Conference wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Penguins, currently second in the Eastern Conference, will look to get back on the winning track after losing two straight weekend games to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Team Scope:

Stars: Dallas entered MTS Centre in Winnipeg on Sunday 3-0-1 in its previous four games and winners of eight of its past 12, but it was downhill after they took a 2-1 lead in the first period. The Stars allowed six unanswered goals in a 7-2 loss and stayed overnight in Winnipeg to practice Monday before flying to Pittsburgh.

In an air-tight playoff race, Stars coach Lindy Ruff knows there's no margin for error.

“I didn't think we were committed enough," Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. "We didn't win enough wall battles and we made some mistakes that we haven't been making. First and foremost, it falls on my shoulders to help them understand what went wrong. On the good side, it's our first really bad game in a little while.

"I'm excited about the challenge, and I think the team is excited about the challenge. These are going to be great games, and we need to be ready for them."

Penguins: Plagued by injuries all season, the Penguins had forward James Neal (concussion) return to practice Monday. Neal reported no issues and believes he could play Tuesday if he feels good the next morning.

Forward Chris Kunitz (lower body) and Beau Bennett (wrist/hand) also practiced, but it's unclear if they'll play against the Stars. And though defenseman Kris Letang remains out indefinitely, he skated Monday nearly two months after having a stroke and told reporters his goal is to return this season.

"There's no doubt in my mind," Letang said. "Even the day I got the stroke, I asked the doctor when I'm going to be able to play again. So there's no doubt about it. If I'm on the ice today, it's because I want to return."

Who's hot: Stars forward Alex Chiasson has a point in four of his past six games. Center Tyler Seguin 30th goal Sunday gave him 11 points (five goals, six assists) in a five-game point streak … Penguins center Sidney Crosby has five points (two goals, three assists) in his past five games.

Injury report: Stars center Shawn Horcoff (upper body) may not play on Dallas' road trip. Forward Rich Peverley (heart surgery) is out for the season, but Lehtonen (concussion) should be available to play Tuesday … Penguins defenseman Paul Martin (broken hand), forwards Chris Conner (hand surgery) and Pascal Dupuis (right knee surgery), and goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot, hip) are on injured reserve.

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNHL

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