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Stars-Sharks Preview

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GAME: Dallas Stars (38-15-3) at San Jose Sharks (25-21-8).

TIME: Friday, 10:30 p.m. EST.

Niko Kapanen may be hard-pressed to provide an encore, but his Dallas Stars teammates are playing so well they might not need one.

The Stars look for their ninth victory in 10 games and their second in consecutive nights as they visit the San Jose Sharks.

Kapanen's first career hat trick led Dallas to a 5-1 win Thursday at Phoenix. The center capped his night with a short-handed goal at 15:57 of the third period.

"It's nice to score goals," Kapanen said. "Even one is nice for me. Three in a row is unbelievable. That was my day for sure."

Kapanen, who will represent Finland at the Olympics, had just 11 goals in 212 career games prior to Thursday. But Dallas coach Dave Tippett appreciates what he brings to a team.

"We like Kapanen's game when he's not scoring, but when he does score it just jumps out at you," Tippett said. "You'll see over the next few weeks in the Olympics how important he is to Team Finland."

The Stars had little trouble improving to 8-0-1 in their past nine games against the Coyotes, who are enveloped in the gambling scandal surrounding its coaching staff.

"The message today was to prepare for our game and what we need to do to win," Tippett said. "Tonight is the night that it was really put to the test because you cannot get caught up in everything that is going around."

Sergei Zubov had three assists for Dallas, giving him five goals and 18 assists in his last 21 games.

The Sharks have only won twice in their last eight games, but they can wrap up their five-game homestand with consecutive victories if they defeat the Stars.

Vesa Toskala stopped 29 shots, including 14 in the final period, Wednesday as San Jose beat Chicago 2-1, snapping a four-game losing skid. Toskala is 6-1-2 in his last nine decisions after opening the season with four straight losses.

"We got tentative for the last 25 minutes, but fortunately Tosk was unbelievable," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "It was a tough game for him. He didn't see the rubber a lot early and it's hard to keep your focus."

Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton scored in a 45-second span of the first period to give San Jose all the offense it would need. Marleau has scored in each of his last two games after a six-game stretch without a goal.

Dallas has won three straight meetings in the series and has gotten at least one point in each of its last nine games against the Sharks.

STANDINGS: Stars - 79 points, 1st place, Pacific Division. Sharks - 58 points, 4th place, 21 PB, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Stars - Jere Lehtinen, 26 goals; Zubov, 37 assists; Jason Arnott and Mike Modano, 52 points; Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott, 110 PIM. Sharks - Jonathan Cheechoo, 32 goals; Thornton, 56 assists and 75 points; Mark Smith, 73 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Stars - Power play: 16.1 percent (57 for 354), 22nd in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.1 percent (290 for 345), 10th. Sharks - Power play: 16.8 percent (56 for 333), 20th. Penalty killing: 79.8 percent (218 for 273), 24th.

GOALTENDERS: Stars - Marty Turco (29-13-3, 3 SO, 2.49 GAA); Johan Hedberg (9-2-0, 0, 2.57). Sharks - Evgeni Nabokov (14-15-6, 1, 2.95); Toskala (6-5-2, 0, 3.07).

SEASON SERIES: Stars, 3-1.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 30; Stars, 3-2 (OT). At Dallas, Arnott scored the game-winner with 35 seconds remaining as the Stars won their club-record fourth consecutive overtime contest.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Stars - 18-5-2 on the road; Sharks - 15-7-5 at home.

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