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Stars-Panthers Preview @NHL

After cruising through February, the Dallas Stars look to continue their move up the standings when they meet the Florida Panthers for the only time this season on Thursday.

The Stars (38-21-3) entered February trailing first-place Anaheim by 10 points in the Pacific Division. They went 8-2-1 in the month - their second-best February ever in terms of points - and now trail the Ducks by five points.

Dallas is coming off a 2-1 overtime victory over Southeast Division-leading Tampa Bay on Tuesday that improved it to 29-18 in games decided by two or fewer goals.

"There's not really a bad area of our game right now," goaltender Marty Turco said. "We've been playing some tight games pretty much all year long anyway. It's something that we're getting used to and comfortable with."

Tuesday's win was the Stars' third in a row, and although it is one of the hottest teams in the league, Dallas has not won four straight since opening the season with five consecutive victories.

A big reason for the Stars' success in February was the play of their special teams. They have scored at least one power-play goal in seven of their last nine games, and killed a league-best 89.2 percent of their opponents' power-play opportunities in the month.

Turco turned away 19 shots against the Lightning and has been stellar in net for Dallas since being pulled in consecutive starts. After allowing two goals on seven shots against Minnesota on Feb. 6 and three goals on 15 shots against Colorado on Feb. 11, Turco has gone 3-0-1 with a 1.20 goals-against average in his last four starts.

Turco made 19 saves in the Stars' 4-3 win over the Panthers (25-26-13) on Dec. 7, 2005, snapping a personal three-game losing skid against them. He is just 1-3-0 with a 2.24 GAA in his career against Florida.

Ladislav Nagy scored in overtime Tuesday, his second goal in six contests with Dallas since being acquired from Phoenix on Feb. 12.

Jere Lehtinen also scored against Tampa Bay, and has a goal in each of his last three games. Lehtinen, who has a team-high 22 goals, had two goals and an assist in last season's win over Florida.

The Panthers defeated Washington 6-5 in a shootout on Tuesday, their first shootout win of the season after going 0-7 and scoring on only 4-of-29 shootout attempts. They were 2-for-3 on Tuesday, getting scores from Jozef Stumpel and Ville Peltonen.

Olli Jokinen recorded his fourth career hat trick and third of the season to lead Florida to its second straight win. The Panthers won a season-high three in a row from Dec. 16-21.

"It's nice to score goals," said Jokinen, who leads the team with 28, "but the bottom line right now is to get points in the standings."

The Panthers have gone 5-1-2 since Feb. 10, but are still nine points back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

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