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Stars need points as they visit Canucks

by David Kalan

STARS (42-30-5) at CANUCKS (48-20-9)


Last 10: Dallas 6-4-0; Vancouver 6-3-1

Season Series: The Stars have won two of their three meetings with the Canucks this season, but Vancouver took the most recent game, a 2-1 victory on March 22 at American Airlines Center.

Big Story: Vancouver already has the Northwest Division title sewn up but is playing for the top spot in the Western Conference and first in the overall standings. The Canucks won't have an easy time against the Stars, who are playing well and embroiled in one of the wildest postseason runs in recent memory.

Team Scope:

Stars: The phrase "Wild, Wild West" may not even come close to describe just how wild the Pacific Division is right now. With Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose and Phoenix all jockeying for a total of three spots, the division routinely has a new leader -- and teams have dropped from third in the West to outside the top eight in one night.

Dallas might not even be in the playoff conversation were it not for a six-game winning streak to start the month of March. Since then, however, they've won three of seven games. A four-game road trip hasn't made that much easier, but the Stars' fate is still very much in their hands. After Friday's visit to Vancouver the team will start a home-and-home with division-rival San Jose.

The Stars will stick with Kari Lehtonen in goal. He made 31 saves in Wednesday's 3-1 win at Edmonton and will be making his seventh straight start.

"We're going to run with Kari," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "Kari is feeling pretty good right now. ... He wants to play and we need at least three more wins, so we've got to find them anywhere we can."

Canucks: Vancouver looks like it will be the only Northwest Division team in the postseason field. The division title has been wrapped up for a while, but the Canucks are chasing St. Louis for the West's top overall seed as well as the Presidents' Trophy. The Canucks will have a game in hand on St. Louis when they take the ice Friday night, but they may need to run the table to have a good chance of overtaking the Blues for the League's best mark.

The Canucks have helped their cause by winning four straight games and play four of their final five at home. All four wins have come by one goal, including back-to-back 1-0 victories against Los Angeles and Colorado this week.

"We've done a good job keeping pace with them our last four games and I think we both have five left, so it'll be interesting," Schneider said of the race with the Blues. "We're hitting our stride defensively and playing well and so are they; we'd love to get the No. 1 seed, but we're just worried about us right now."

Who's Hot: Not many players are hotter than Dallas' Michael Ryder, who has five goals and three assists in his last five games, including two goals and an assist on Wednesday. ... The Canucks may not be scoring much, what scoring they are getting all seems to be coming from Chris Higgins. He has three goals, including two game-winners, in the last three games.

Injury Report : Radek Dvorak (ankle) and Eric Nystrom (lacerated leg) are both questionable for Dallas, which is also missing Mark Fistric, who has been out since March 21 with a strained abdominal muscle but has resumed skating. … Vancouver recently lost defenseman Aaron Rome for a week or two with a sprained knee, but the larger concern is the considerable void left by Daniel Sedin, who is out indefinitely with a concussion.

Stat Pack: Certainly Vancouver would prefer to grab the No. 1 seed in the West, but after losing last season's Stanley Cup Final despite having Game 7 on home ice, the Canucks know the top seed doesn't guarantee a championship. Perhaps more importantly, however, is that few teams can match Vancouver's consistency both at home and on the road. The Canucks' home record of 23-10-4 is nearly identical to their 24-11-5 road mark.

Puck Drop: Given how competitive the Pacific Division is, the Stars will desperately need the two points Friday night, but the Canucks are unlikely to make it easy on them even with a top-three seed already sealed. The Canucks are actually chasing some history as the season winds down. No team has won the Presidents' Trophy in consecutive seasons since the Dallas Stars did it in 1998 and 1999. The Canucks wouldn't mind following in those footsteps: The 1999 Stars took home the first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.

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