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Stars-Coyotes Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Dallas Stars (38-17-3) at Phoenix Coyotes (27-28-4).

TIME: Thursday, 9 p.m. EST.

The Dallas Stars visit the Phoenix Coyotes as both teams begin post-Olympic play looking to put controversy behind them.

Dallas captain Mike Modano caused a stir last week in Turin when he criticized the administration of USA Hockey, saying it could use some new blood. Those comments followed a 1-4-1 performance by the U.S., which lost in the quarterfinals to Finland.

"If I didn't care and USA Hockey didn't mean a lot to me, I would have just skated off and they never would have heard from me again," said Modano, Dallas' second-leading scorer with 53 points. "I haven't turned my back on USA Hockey. I want it to be better, to be a better experience for people. If it does help, that's great. If not, that's their problem then."

Teammates stepped up to support Modano, a 16-year veteran and a big reason why the Stars lead the Pacific Division by 10 points with 24 games remaining.

"It's ridiculous how big this has gotten," said Bill Guerin, a fellow Team USA member. "It was never an excuse of how things went on the ice. I feel bad for Mike because his name is being dragged through the mud, and he doesn't deserve that."

Modano and Guerin, along with goalie Marty Turco, a member of Team Canada, will be in the lineup against the Coyotes.

The Stars lost two straight to enter the break. After playing the Coyotes, they return home to face the Avalanche on Saturday before leaving for a four-game road trip.

Phoenix was rocked just before the Olympic break by allegations of an illegal gambling ring led by Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet that also involved other NHL players and Janet Jones, wife of Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky.

The uproar over the scandal has since died down, but the Canadian team Gretzky put together lost in the Olympic quarterfinals to Russia following a mediocre performance in group play.

The Coyotes lost their last four games before the break and are in last place in the Pacific Division. Phoenix plays Dallas and Detroit - the top two teams in the Western Conference - at home to open post-Olympic play.

Despite the distractions, Gretzky is convinced the Coyotes can still make a run at the playoffs.

"Absolutely we can still make it, but for us to get there a couple things need to happen," Gretzky said. "First, and I hate putting pressure on the goalies, but we need our goaltender to get really hot, that leads to success for every team.

"Second, the players need to believe themselves that we can win and finally, we need to put together a stretch where we win six or seven in a row. If we do that, we will put ourselves in a good position to make the playoffs."

STANDINGS: Stars - 79 points, 1st place, Pacific Division. Coyotes - 58 points, 5th place, 21 PB, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Stars - Jere Lehtinen, 27 goals; Sergei Zubov, 39 assists; Jason Arnott, 55 points; Brenden Morrow, 139 PIM. Coyotes - Mike Comrie, 19 goals; Ladislav Nagy, 41 assists and 56 points; Sean O'Donnell, 114 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Stars - Power play: 15.9 percent (58 for 364), 23rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.6 percent (300 for 359), 11th. Coyotes - Power play: 17.8 percent (70 for 393), 18th. Penalty killing: 80.7 percent (301 for 373), 22nd.

GOALTENDERS: Stars - Turco (29-15-3, 3 SO, 2.62 GAA); Johan Hedberg (9-2-0, 0, 2.57). Coyotes - Curtis Joseph (22-16-2, 2, 2.93); Philippe Sauve (3-4-0, 0, 3.41).

SEASON SERIES: Stars, 4-2.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 9; Stars, 5-1. At Glendale, Ariz., Niko Kapanen recorded his first career hat trick to help the Stars win for the eighth time in nine games. Phoenix lost its second straight following charges being filed against Tocchet.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Stars - 18-7-2 on the road; Coyotes - 15-14-3 at home.

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