Less than two weeks ago, the Dallas Stars were within range of catching the Detroit Red Wings atop the Western Conference. Now they find themselves just trying to regain the lead in their own division.
Dallas will look to move back into first place in the Pacific Division on Thursday when it visits Detroit, which is seeking its fifth straight win but will be without goalie Dominik Hasek.
While the Red Wings floundered, losing 10 of their last 11 games of February, the Stars (42-25-5) were busy finishing off a stretch of 13 wins in 15 games that pulled them to within three points of Detroit (46-18-6).
Dallas, though, lost its first three games of March, and though the Stars snapped the skid with a 3-0 win over Colorado on Sunday, they've fallen one point behind San Jose in the Pacific Division. They're nine points behind the streaking Red Wings.
"Obviously, the standings are tight," Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas said. "We're trying not to look at them and focus on ourselves. But the last three games, we haven't played the kind of hockey we're used to, so tonight was important."
Against the Avalanche, center Brad Richards scored his first goal in a Stars uniform since coming over from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline, while Marty Turco had 19 saves for his third shutout of the season.
Dallas led 2-0 after the first period, when it outshot Colorado 12-1.
"The way we played was relentless," Turco said. "We're going to need more of the same."
|Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk, foreground, comes into tonight's contest having recorded at least one point in each of his last seven games. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Turco had lost three straight starts before Sunday, but he's 11-5-0 with a 1.94 goals-against average since the All-Star break - a stretch that includes a 28-save, 1-0 victory over the Red Wings on Feb. 17.
Turco had never beaten Detroit in regulation before that game, having gone 1-8-0 with one tie and a 3.26 GAA in his previous 11 starts against Detroit, the victory coming in a shootout. He hasn't won in nine career starts at Joe Louis Arena.
Detroit's goalie situation is somewhat less clear after Hasek left practice early Wednesday with a sore back. He missed six games in February with a hip injury, but was 3-1-0 with a 2.26 GAA since returning.
Hasek hurt his back in a 4-3 win over Nashville on Sunday, and backup Chris Osgood stopped 19 shots in a 3-1 win over Chicago on Tuesday.
Hasek said he hopes to be back by the weekend, but the Red Wings will try to secure their eighth consecutive 100-point season with Osgood in net. They have 98 points entering Thursday - eight ahead of the Sharks for the NHL lead.
In his last two starts against Dallas, Osgood has allowed one goal each time in a pair of wins.
Detroit has scored 15 goals in its last four games after managing just 17 goals in its previous 10 contests. Against the Blackhawks, Pavel Datsyuk extended his point streak to seven with a goal while the Red Wings built a 47-20 shot advantage.
"We've still got to ratchet it up," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "It's nice to see we've won four in a row, getting our confidence back, but we still have a long ways to go."
The Red Wings have gone 6-1-1 in their last eight against Dallas, which will be without center Steve Ott for the next three games after he was suspended for a hit to the head against the Avalanche.