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Thrashers-Stars Preview

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Thrashers-Stars Preview

GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (22-18-6) at Dallas Stars (30-13-2).

TIME: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. EST.

The Atlanta Thrashers appear to have a strong goaltender to go with their high-scoring offense.

The Thrashers look to win a franchise-record fifth straight game and defeat a team they've never beaten before as they visit the Dallas Stars.

The Thrashers last won four in a row from Dec. 5-12, 2003, but were then shut out in three consecutive games. This is the third time in franchise history they have won four straight games.

Atlanta is 0-7-1 all-time against Dallas, getting outscored 25-13. This season, though, the Thrashers have been winning with their offense.

The Thrashers have scored six or more goals in nine games and averaged 5.0 goals in their six games before Friday's 2-0 win over the St. Louis Blues. Kari Lehtonen made a career-high 37 saves for his first shutout of the season and was making just his seventh start of the season due to a groin injury suffered in the season opener.

"The best part of tonight's game is that we picked up two points despite playing our worst game in the last two months," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "We were not sharp. Those two points can go in Kari Lehtonen's column."

Lehtonen missed three months with his injury and is 9-2-0 in his career with a 2.18 goals-against average and two shutouts.

The Thrashers have used five goalies this season due to injuries, and when Lehtonen and backup Mike Dunham dressed Friday, they had their top two goalies available for the first time since the season opener. Dunham, activated from the injured list Thursday, hasn't played since hurting his groin on Nov. 12.

"We went so long looking for the NHL goalie we were expecting," Hartley said of Lehtonen. "Now we have him."

Patrik Stefan gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead that stood from until the third period, when Ilya Kovalchuk scored his NHL-leading 34th goal.

Kovalchuk has tied his career-long eight-game point streak with 11 goals and seven assists during that span.

Atlanta has only won three games when scoring two goals or fewer, while the Stars are tied with the Coyotes for the league lead with seven wins when scoring two goals or fewer.

The Stars' season-high, six-game winning streak ended Monday with a 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Niklas Hagman and Antti Miettinen scored for Dallas, which failed to gain a point for the first time in eight games since a 3-2 loss Dec. 31 to Los Angeles.

The Stars entered the game as the third-best road penalty killing team in the league, but Montreal scored on its first three power-play opportunities.

"We talked about it before the game, to stay out of the box, and it came back to bite us but for the most part I thought we outchanced them," Stars captain Mike Modano said.

The Stars outshot the Canadiens 37-15, and Sergei Zubov's career-best nine-game point streak was snapped in the loss.

Marty Turco made just 11 saves and allowed four goals for the first time since Dec. 14. He missed practice Tuesday while getting treatment for a lower body injury, and will sit out this game.

"Marty's a bit sore, don't know what it is, groin, hamstring, something," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "It's just a little tender, and we decided to give him a night off. ... It's more precautionary than anything."

STANDINGS: Thrashers - 50 points, 2nd place, 14 PB, Southeast Division. Stars - 62 points, 1st place, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 34 goals and 66 points; Marc Savard, 42 assists; Andy Sutton, 78 PIM. Stars - Jere Lehtinen, 24 goals; Modano and Zubov, 30 assists; Modano, 46 points; Steve Ott, 97 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Thrashers - Power play: 20.9 percent (68 for 325), 4th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.5 percent (237 for 298), 26th. Stars - Power play: 15.8 percent (46 for 291), 21st. Penalty killing: 84.2 percent (239 for 284), 10th.

GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Lehtonen (5-2-0, 1 SO, 2.64 GAA); Dunham (4-3-1, 1, 2.10). Stars - Johan Hedberg (8-1-0, 2.58); Mike Smith (no appearances).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Stars, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 8, 2004; Stars 2-1. At Dallas, Arnott assisted on goals by Ott and Scott Young.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 9-11-2 on the road; Stars - 14-8-1 at home.


Associated Press

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