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Predators try to stay hot vs. desperate Stars

by Matthew Mankiewich
STARS (38-25-10) at PREDATORS (40-25-10)

TV -- TXA 21 (HD), FS-TN (HD)

Last 10 -- Dallas 4-2-4; Nashville 7-2-1

Season series -- It's the final meeting of the season for these two, with the Predators needing a win to earn a split of the four-game series. Dallas won the last meeting, 3-2 at home on Feb. 26.

Big story -- After failing to capitalize on a chance to inch past the Anaheim Ducks into eighth place by winning at home on Wednesday, the Stars begin a five-game road trip that will make or break their season. Meanwhile, Nashville has loftier aspirations very much in sight thanks to a five-game winning streak and a 9-2-2 stretch in its last 13. The Predators are a mere three points behind fourth-place Phoenix and five behind Central Division-leading Detroit. First, though, they have to hold off a Dallas team that trails them by only four points.

Team scope

Stars -- One reason why the Stars are on the outside looking in at the playoffs is that they've twice failed to close out games against Anaheim. The Stars were clinging to a 3-2 lead against Anaheim in the closing seconds of Wednesday's game when a puck bounced off an official right onto Saku Koivu's stick. His shot caromed to Teemu Selanne, who then dumped the puck in the net for the tying goal. Cam Fowler later won it in OT for the Ducks, leaving the Stars with a 4-3 loss, one point instead of two and a disappointing 2-2-3 homestand.

"It's just a horrendous break," coach Marc Crawford said to the Dallas Morning News. "What can you do? We don't plan for the referee to be in the way. He doesn't plan to be there, so unfortunately, we get a horrendous break with five seconds to go and it has nothing to do with the play."

Predators -- Right after they wreaked havoc in Big D, the Ducks came close to doing the same in Music City. The Preds had a 5-1 lead over Anaheim with 10:31 remaining in the third and nearly blew it, thanks mostly to inopportune penalties and an errant foot. Joel Ward got called for roughing and Selanne scored a 5-on-3 goal to make it 5-2, then he did it again on another 5-on-3 six minutes later. Finally, Ryan Suter accidentally kicked a Corey Perry doorstep dump-in into the net to make the final 26.5 seconds a little too hectic for coach Barry Trotz' taste.

"We can't let a team off the hook," he told the Tennessean afterward. "We talked about a good example, we had Chicago on the hook last year in the playoffs, we let them off the hook and they went on to win the Stanley Cup. If we don't learn from that … I don't know when we are. (The game) should be managed much better and that was the message after the game. I'm happy we got the two points, but I'm not happy the way we mismanaged the third period."

As a further case in point, the Predators lost their last two games against the Stars after leading in the third.

Who's hot -- Dallas forward Jamie Benn's 10-game point streak ended Wednesday, by which time it was the longest active one in the League. … David Legwand's third-period shorthanded goal proved to be the winner for the Preds on Thursday, and he extended his point streak to five games. He's had points in 11 of his last 14 games dating back to Feb. 26. Preds forward Sergei Kostitsyn scored twice in the first period of Thursday's game to extend his point streak to five games. His 43 points make him the third Predator to break the 40-point barrier, and has more points this season than he had in the previous two combined.

Injury report -- Injuries are starting to mount again for the Stars, as Nicklas Grossman left Saturday's game with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee and Karlis Skrastins suffered a lacerated thigh. With Adam Burish's lower-body injury and Brian Sutherby's bad back, it's the worst bite by the injury bug since the one that sent them on a 2-10-1 February swoon that cost them the Pacific Division lead. … Predators winger Steve Sullivan (groin) underwent surgery March 5 and is still a couple of weeks away.

Stat pack -- The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five road games after dropping seven in a row. … The Predators' win against Anaheim was their 40th of the season and 21st at home, the sixth season in a row they've reached both marks. They join Detroit and San Jose with six straight 40-win seasons so far, Calgary and New Jersey can still match them. Nashville has the second-most home wins (152) to Detroit (156) since 2005-06.

Puck drop -- All five of the Stars' opponents on this trip currently hold playoff spots, but the remaining four games will be against non-playoff teams while the rest of the Pacific Division plays each other. After Dallas, the Predators face just two current playoff teams (Detroit and Vancouver) the rest of the way.

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