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Stars set for potential tight battle with Blues

by Brian Hunter

BLUES (3-1-0) at STARS (2-1-1)


Season series: First of three meetings. Dallas won the opening matchup on the 2011-12 slate, but St. Louis took the next three. Blues forward Chris Stewart scored three goals, the only player in the series on other side to have more than one.

Big story: Two of the NHL's better defensive teams in the early-going square off. The Blues were tied for the League's best goal differential (plus-9) entering Friday night's action. The Stars have opened the season by playing four consecutive one-goal games, and taken five of a possible eight points.

Team Scope:

Blues: The defending Central Division champions are currently chasing a red-hot rival in Chicago, but the returns from the season's first week suggest St. Louis will be competing not only for the division title, but the Western Conference crown and Presidents' Trophy once again. The Blues displayed all the elements of their well-rounded game in a 3-0 win Thursday over the Predators. T.J. Oshie scored on a power play, Patrik Berglund on a penalty shot, and rookie Vladimir Tarasenko continued his torrid pace with another goal. The defense was also sound in front of Jaroslav Halak, who needed to make just 13 saves for his second shutout already this season and the 24th of his career.

"Tonight we were trying to get a bounce-back game after a tough loss against Chicago (3-2 on Tuesday)," Oshie said. "Guys are just playing well, goaltending's great obviously. Everyone's just been good at home."

Stars: The big news in Dallas on Thursday came prior to the game, when restricted free agent Jamie Benn signed a new five-year contract. Benn probably won't be ready to play until Monday in Columbus, but his return comes at a good time for the Stars, who scored four goals in their season opener and just four more in the three games since. They led the Blackhawks 2-0 on Thursday thanks to a shorthanded tally by Loui Eriksson and a goal by Ray Whitney, but would eventually drop a 3-2 overtime decision despite 38 saves from Kari Lehtonen.

"The only reason we got a point was because of him," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "Got outplayed all night but our goalie was real good."

Who's hot: Halak has the early League lead in shutouts, while Tarasenko's four goals and Kevin Shattenkirk's five assists also place them among the game's best. … Cody Eakin, acquired by the Stars in the Mike Ribeiro trade, has three assists in the last two games since being placed on a line with Whitney and Michael Ryder.

Injury report: Dallas forward Jaromir Jagr and defenseman Aaron Rome are battling lower-body injuries and their statuses are day-to-day.

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