A total of two points over the regular season's final two games will ensure the Anaheim Ducks reach the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
The latest hurdle comes Friday night when the Ducks play host to the Dallas Stars, who finish 2008-09 playing the role of spoiler.
With 88 points, Anaheim (41-33-6) is tied with St. Louis and Nashville for seventh in the Western Conference. The Predators play their finale against Minnesota earlier Friday night, meaning by the time the Ducks are midway through this contest they may need only one point to assure playing beyond the regular season.
"The bottom line is it's the most important game of the year," coach Randy Carlyle told the Ducks' official Web site. "I know you've heard me say it, but this probably is an exclamation point at this point in our season (Friday) night."
Anaheim is 2-2-1 against Dallas this season, with both regulation losses to its Pacific Division rival coming at the Honda Center.
The Ducks need to focus on stopping Mike Ribeiro, the Stars' leader with 54 assists and 76 points. The center has had four multipoint games against the Ducks this season, totaling four goals and six assists.
Anaheim, which plays its final regular-season contest Sunday at Phoenix, hasn't taken the ice since having its four-game winning streak snapped with a 3-2 home defeat to league-leading San Jose on Sunday.
Petteri Nokelainen scored short-handed and Corey Perry added a man-advantage goal for his team-high 31st as the Ducks took a 2-1 lead in the second. Jonas Hiller, though, couldn't make it stand up, allowing power-play goals to Joe Pavelski late in the second period and to Jonathan Cheechoo with less than seven minutes to play.
"We've been playing playoff hockey for the last couple of weeks, so it's nice that we get a little bit of a break before our last two games - especially this late in the season," Perry said. "It's been a long haul, but we're in a great position to be where we are. But we have to prove that we belong there."
Continued production from a pair of rookies could be all Anaheim needs. Bobby Ryan and Andrew Ebbett each have a goal and three assists against Dallas.
Ryan, a likely Calder Trophy finalist, has four goals and an assist in three games this month. He leads all rookies with 30 goals and 56 points.
Hiller had been 7-0-0 with a 2.37 goals-against average in seven starts before losing to the Sharks, and should be back in goal. He made 31 saves through overtime in his only career win against Dallas, 2-1 on Nov. 22. Jean-Sebastien Giguere has gone 1-2-1 with a 4.03 GAA when facing the Stars in 2008-09.
Dallas (36-35-10) needed six games to oust Anaheim in the Western Conference quarterfinals last season, but now won't be part of the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Instead, the Stars will try to finish the season with back-to-back wins after Ribeiro employed some trickery in the shootout on Thursday to lift Dallas to a 3-2 victory over conference-worst Colorado. He skated in backward and then flipped a shot into the net off Peter Budaj.
"I knew if I didn't score, I would've heard about it from the boys," Ribeiro said.
James Neal, second among rookies with 24 goals, hasn't found the back of the net in the last eight games. He's scored once in four games against Anaheim.