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Stumbling Stars make it seven in a row

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts while the Rangers exhale:

All but done -- For a while there, it appeared as if the Dallas Stars were going to be a playoff team. They appeared to be well on the road to recovery after the whole Sean Avery fiasco in December, when they were a team mired in last place.

But for whatever reason, the wheels have  come off completely. Dallas dropped its seventh-straight Monday night in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena.

Discipline was an issue for the Stars in their latest loss, as a tripping penalty on Andrew Hutchinson led to Petr Prucha’s power-play tally in the extra session just 16 seconds later.

''Penalties put you behind the eight ball,'' Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. ''Those are the things you do to shoot yourself in the foot and we have enough holes in our feet already.''

After 13 consecutive starts, Marty Turco was given the night off. The switch to Tobias Stephan didn’t reverse the Stars’ fortunes, as Stephan stopped 27 of 33 shots. When he allowed Prucha’s shot to get past him, the Stars were faced with their first seven-game skid in nearly two decades.

''There's just a little thing missing from my game right now,'' Stephan said. ''I'm always right there but if just a little quicker or in better position and I make the save. I think I'm really close but not quite there.''

Pretty much sums up the Stars’ season, doesn’t it?

Nifty fifty -- A second-period goal by Jonathan Cheechoo on Monday night helped the San Jose Sharks reach the 50-win plateau for the second time in franchise history.

It also gave the Sharks a tighter grip on the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

With a 2-1 win against the Calgary Flames at the Pengrowth Saddledome, San Jose moved four points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings, who clinched the Central Division on Sunday. The Sharks are 5-1-1 in their last seven games and played solidly again Monday despite missing nine players due to injury.

"We have a lot of new faces in here but what can you say, the depth of this organization is pretty strong," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said.

San Jose captain Patrick Marleau was the team’s latest casuality as he suffered a lower-body injury Saturday night against Phoenix. One-third of the Sharks’ lineup was playing in the American Hockey League less than a month ago.

"Anytime you don't have nine players, you want the other guys to step up and play well," said goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who made 28 saves Monday. "Our system has changed a little bit, we're not as aggressive and we have to be a little bit smarter, and in a way, I think it's helped us."
Bow down to the King -- All the talk Monday night in New York was devoted to the return of the Sean Avery-Martin Brodeur rivalry, and rightfully so. The two certainly have given us reason to talk so much about it.

By the end of the night, though, you would have had plenty of reason to talk about Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 38 saves in his team’s 3-0 win against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden.

Lundqvist -- easily the biggest reason why the Blueshirts even remain in playoff contention -- improved to 14-2-4 against Brodeur in the regular season with Monday’s win. Not bad considering Brodeur’s Hall of Fame bust is probably already being constructed in Toronto.

“I haven’t had as many as last year,” Lundqvist said after notching his third shutout of the season. “I’m happy for this one. Guys worked really hard for me. I made up my mind before the third period I wanted this one.”

But how do you explain the incredible amount of success against Brodeur?

“It gives you an extra-good feeling to play against the best players in the League,” Lundqvist said.

That extra-good feeling gave New York’s playoff chances a huge boost. Meanwhile, the Devils are already in, but they sure haven’t played like a playoff team as of late. New Jersey has now lost six of its last seven games and is stumbling into the postseason.

“It’s not fun,” said Brodeur, who made 20 saves in the first period and 34 overall. “It’s the time of the year you need to play well, to win games, to advance and to feel good about yourself. Right now, it’s not the case for us. We’re doubting how we do stuff out there. We have six games left and we have to find a way to get through this.”
Contact Brian Compton at:

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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