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Stars gun for fourth straight win against Canucks

by Frank Mentesana
CANUCKS (40-16-6) at STARS (32-26-4)

: SNET-Pacific (HD), FS-Southwest

Last 10: Vancouver 8-1-1; Dallas 5-3-2.

Season Series: These teams have yet to square off this season and, subsequently, will meet four times over the next five weeks, beginning with Sunday's game in Dallas. Vancouver swept the season series in 2010-11 -- outscoring the Stars 20-5 in the four contests -- and has claimed the last six meetings overall.

Big Story: Sunday's matinee at the American Airlines Center is a potential preview of a first-round playoff matchup. Both teams were victorious on Friday, propelling the Canucks to the top spot of the NHL standings with 86 points and sending Dallas into the eighth and final postseason spot in the Western Conference with 68 points. Both clubs are playing very well, as Vancouver is 12-1-3 in its last 16, while the Stars are aiming for their first four-game winning streak in nearly four months.  

Team Scope:

Canucks: The Canucks certainly needed a day off after exhausting back-to-back wins in the midst of their six-game road trip, on which they are currently 3-1-0. On Thursday, the Canucks ended Detroit's NHL-record 23-game home win streak with a 4-3 shootout victory, then edged the streaking Devils 2-1 on Friday, despite being outshot 31-16. Roberto Luongo was in goal for the monumental win against the Red Wings, while Cory Schneider stole the show in New Jersey. Schneider has won a career-high seven consecutive starts, including six on the road, as he stopped 10 shots in the final period to secure Vancouver's League-leading 22nd road victory.

"That's the reason you have two goalies and two goalies you can trust," said Schneider, who is 14-5-0 with a 2.19 goals-against average on the season. "For me, I know the rest of team is tired, but I'm fresh. I might have that extra jump in a game like this for our guys so it's a situation I take a lot of pride in and want to be the difference-maker."

Perhaps the excitement from ending a historic streak in Hockeytown erased any fatigue for the Canucks, as they still managed to take a 2-0 lead by the early stages of the second period on goals by Aaron Rome and Mason Raymond.

"We got in late last night [at 3 a.m. ET from Detroit] and played another great game," said Raymond, who tallied his seventh of the season and his first in 11 games. "It's great to see [Schneider] play well and get the win that moves us up at the top of the standings -- that's a place that feels pretty good."

Stars: Following two outstanding wins at Montreal and Chicago, the Stars returned to the Lone-Star State on Friday and began a three-game homestand with a 4-1 victory over Minnesota, becoming just the 10th NHL franchise to record 1,500 regular-season wins. Loui Eriksson notched his 20th goal of the season (which was the game-winner), Tom Wandell scored twice and Kari Lehtonen stopped 28 shots for the Stars, who are 4-1-1 in their last six outings.

"We've been talking about that for a month now, wanting to get some wins put together and now we're finally doing it," said Lehtonen, who has allowed just one goal in 60 shots in winning his last two starts. "It’s just an interesting time of the year, with every game so important and we're having fun, so hopefully, we can keep it going."

In the process of beating the Wild for the 16th straight time at home, the Stars also ended an 11-game losing streak in the second half of back-to-back games. Dallas had been 0-9-2 before Friday's win, becoming the last NHL team to record a victory in that situation.

Who's Hot: Henrik and Daniel Sedin were held off the scoresheet last game, but they each have eight points in their last five games. … Mike Ribeiro has two goals and six assists during a six-game point streak for Dallas.

Injury Report: TSN's Bob McKenzie reports that the Canucks have put defenseman Keith Ballard (concussion) on long-term injured reserve, which saves them $4.2 million against the salary cap and therefore frees up space to perhaps make a big acquisition at the trade deadline. Besides Ballard, forward Andrew Ebbett (collarbone surgery) remains sidelined. … Stars forward Jamie Benn hasn't played since Feb. 16 because of a lacerated left leg and is unlikely to play Sunday. Rookie defenseman Philip Larsen took a slap shot to the face early in the third period of Friday’s win and did not return. He suffered a cut on his head, but is probable to play against Vancouver. Forwards Jake Dowell (broken finger) and Brenden Morrow (neck/back) are on IR. 

Stat Pack: The Canucks, who have tallied an NHL-best 67 first-period goals, are 34-6-1 when scoring first this season. … According to the Stars' official web site, they are 5-0-1 against Canadian teams this season.

Puck Drop: The Stars (19-0-1) and Canucks (26-0-0) both have not lost a game in regulation this season when leading after two periods.

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