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Buffalo final stop on Stars Olympic tour

by Bob Matuszak / Dallas Stars

BUFFALO -- First it was Sidney Crosby, and then Alexander Ovechkin. Wednesday night, the Stars will face another key Olympian in goalie Ryan Miller when they face the Buffalo Sabres.

Miller backstopped the United States to a silver medal in Vancouver 10 days ago, and was named the tournament's MVP. He's since picked up where he left off, going 2-1-0 with a 1.64 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in his first three appearances since the break.

"He's their guy," left wing Steve Ott said. "He's such a dynamic goalie and so gifted at what he does. You have to get traffic in front of him, and you have to be hard around the crease. The garbage goals are the ones you're going to have to score on him because he's so talented."

Stars goalie Marty Turco, meanwhile, will get his second straight start, putting the goaltenders in the spotlight in another key game for the Stars. Turco finished with a career-best 49 saves in the Stars shootout win over Washington on Monday, rebounding from two disappointing outings in which he allowed nine goals on 33 shots in 82 minutes of action.

The Stars enter the game five points behind Calgary for the eighth and final playoff slot in the Western Conference, and have the opportunity to win two of three games against the Eastern Conferences top three teams before heading back to Texas to start a six-game homestand Friday against Los Angeles.

"We have a chance to have an excellent road trip," Ott said. "Winning two out of three against some of the top teams in the league is a lot better than going 1-2, and that's something we want to make sure we do. We need to continue to collect points."

Grossman, Lehtinen questionable
Defenseman Nicklas Grossman was able to skate Wednesday morning but coach Marc Crawford said he will be a game time decision. Grossman missed the Capitals game Monday because of some back discomfort.

Veteran right wing Jere Lehtinen didn't skate because of an illness. He will also be a game time decision.

Benn has friend in Sabres' Myers
When Jamie Benn lugs the puck into the Sabres zone, he'll likely run into his buddy, defenseman Tyler Myers. The two rookies played junior hockey together for two years at Kelowna and won a gold medal for Canada at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa before both made the jump to the NHL this season.

Benn was able to visit with the 6-foot-8 Myers on Tuesday night, and the two went out for one of their favorite meals -- sushi.

"We had a good dinner and told each other that we're going to battle each other pretty hard," Myers said. "So it should be pretty fun playing against him."

Benn has been one of the more pleasant surprises for the Stars this year. The 20-year-old has played in all 65 games this season, joining Stephane Robidas and Loui Eriksson as the only players to appear in all of the Stars' contests. His 15 goals ranks fourth for rookies, and his 29 points is the seventh-most for freshmen.

That type of production doesn't surprise Myers.

"Not at all," he said. "He's probably the best junior player I've ever played for or against. He shoots the puck with the best of them. He's having a great year, and is a player that even though he's 20 you have to watch him because if you let a guy like that shoot the puck he's going to pick the corner."

After Wednesday's morning skate Benn worked with assistant coach Stu Barnes on faceoffs, as the natural winger continues to dabble at center here and there for coach Marc Crawford.

"He's playing extremely well for us," Crawford said. "For a 20-year-old he's showing really good maturity. He's a good thinker, and has great vision."

Power play powering up
It was in a rut, but things are looking up for Dallas' power play. After converting on both chances in the shootout win at Washington, the Stars are looking to keep that party going against the Sabres.

"We have the firepower and the talent and skill to have a good power play," winger James Neal said. "It's just little things like getting pucks on net and getting some traffic in front that make a big difference. I think we got back to doing the right things the last game."

Coming out of the break Dallas was just 1-for14 with the man advantage in three consecutive losses, but against the Capitals the power play was able to come through to spark a third-period rally.

For Neal, success with the extra skater all comes down to attitude.

"Sometimes when you get on the power play you tend to relax a little bit because the other team is down a man," he said. "I think it should be the total opposite. Once you get the power play, you need to pour it on."

Crawford on cusp of 500 club
With a win against the Sabres, Crawford would garner his 500th career NHL coaching victory. He would become just the 15th head coach in league history to do so. Earlier this season he became the 15th individual to reach 1,000 games coached.

Lehtonen continues to work
It wasn't hard to notice that goalie Kari Lehtonen ran out of some gas in his first start of the season -- and first since April 11 of last year -- at Pittsburgh on Saturday. Since then he's been working hard on his conditioning as he continues to recuperate from the back surgery he had earlier in the season.

"You can see his conditioning has really picked up just by looking at him physically," Crawford said. "He's getting leaner and he's getting sharper. On the ice his movements are more fluid, and when he's fatigued he's quicker to recover."

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