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Stars continue playoff push against Hurricanes

by Brian Hunter

STARS (37-27-11) at HURRICANES (33-32-11)


Last 10: Dallas 5-4-1; Carolina 4-4-2

Season series: This is the second and final game between the Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes. Jamie Benn had a goal and two assists, Kari Lehtonen made 29 saves and the Stars won 4-1 at American Airlines Center on Feb. 27.

Big story: This is one of the games in hand Dallas has on the Phoenix Coyotes as they battle for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the Stars control their own destiny, the Hurricanes could run the table and still miss the postseason -- they need to jump five teams to get into a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

Team Scope:

Stars: This marks the mid-point of a five-game road trip for Dallas, which is on a roll at the right time with three straight wins. The past two have been particularly impressive, edging the West-leading St. Louis Blues 4-2 in their building on Saturday then dominating a Washington Capitals team in desperate need of points 5-0 on Tuesday. Against the Capitals, Lehtonen turned in a flawless 35-save performance and forward Dustin Jeffrey scored his first two goals of the season.

"We rely heavily on [Tyler] Seguin and Benn, and this time of year and moving forward the games are going to get tighter and teams are going to focus in on those two. So you are going to need secondary scoring," said veteran forward Ray Whitney, who added a goal and an assist. "We've been getting it for the last two weeks and that's going to be big the rest of the way."

The Stars rewarded themselves the day after that big win. Following an optional practice on Wednesday, the team did some off-ice workouts before throwing around baseballs and footballs and kicking around a soccer ball on a playing field next to the practice facility in Raleigh.

Hurricanes: Each loss moves Carolina closer to elimination from playoff contention, so it was impressive to see the Hurricanes respond Tuesday with a 4-1 win on the road against a Pittsburgh Penguins team that had the opportunity to clinch the Metropolitan Division. Rookie forward Elias Lindholm snapped a tie in the second period with a pair of goals 5:33 apart.

Goalie Anton Khudobin figures to be in line for the start after making 30 saves in Pittsburgh and earning his 17th win in what's been an impressive first season in Carolina.

"We've had some tough starts over the past couple weeks, but our goaltenders seem to be ready every time," said captain Eric Staal, who also scored Tuesday.

Who's hot: Stars forward Ryan Garbutt has four goals in as many games. Lehtonen has won five of his past six starts and allowed 10 total goals over that stretch. … Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner has four goals and three assists during a six-game point streak. Forward Andrei Loktionov has two goals and four assists in his past five games.

Injury report: Dallas defenseman Aaron Rome (undisclosed) missed the game Tuesday. Forward Erik Cole (upper body) has missed the past six games and Rich Peverley (irregular heartbeat) is done for the season. … Carolina forwards Jiri Tlusty (upper body) and Alexander Semin (illness) missed the game Tuesday. Forward Drayson Bowman (illness) is questionable.

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