Gameday preview: Dallas Stars @ Vancouver Canucks (9:00p CST)

For a look at the game from the opponent's view be sure to check out Nuck's Misconduct.

It's amazing what a few wins in a row and news about certain players returning from injury can do for the atmosphere surrounding a team. With wins over Carolina and Minnesota the Stars put themselves right back in the playoff race and in position to control their fate moving down the stretch. The trick of course, is they need to avoid another slump like they suffered a few weeks ago. With three games against top 5 teams in the Western conference over the next four games, the Stars will face a tough test but one that they should be more than capable of passing.

The return of certain key players from injury could also be the boost that finally turns things around for good.

Tonight should see the return of Jere Lehtinen, who hasn't played since March 3rd after suffering an undisclosed upper-body injury. Lehtinen is expected to play right wing on the same line with Brendan Morrison and Mike Modano, who have enjoyed a newfound chemistry over the past several games. With Lehtinen back  in the lineup and on Modano's line, the Stars could build a true defensively sound second or third line. The move would also potentially put James Neal back on Brian Sutherby's line, a combination that was extremely effective a few weeks ago on the team's California road trip. Fabian Brunnstrom is also close to returning but it's uncertain whether he will play tonight or not.

The infusion of several players returning from injury presents a tough challenge for coach Dave Tippett, who has some decisions to make about who will sit when these players come back. With the team finally starting to play well after struggling with Brad Richards, Toby Petersen and Jere Lehtinen out, there will be several young players who will end up on the outside looking in. When Brunnstrom returns, expect him to play on the line with Neal and Sutherby. That would put Chris Conner on the fourth line with Steve Begin and Krys Barch, a combination that has been tenaciously effective the past few weeks.

No matter who ends up a healthy scratch, the Stars have to feel good about having to make these tough decisions. The fact that there are several young players playing well that makes it hard to not play them speaks volumes about how many guys have stepped up during the hard times.

While the Dallas Stars have struggled over the past month, the Vancouver Canucks have been the hottest team in the league. 14-3-1 over their past 18 games, the Canucks have solidified their position in the fifth seed in the West. While their record is impressive they have been even more dominant at home, winning nine straight in Vancouver. After losing two straight on the road last week, the Nucks bounced back with two 4-2 wins over Los Angeles and Colorado. The team is confident and and on a roll, a tough test for any team right now.

Yet the Stars have some confidence themselves when playing Vancouver. They are 2-0-0 against the Canucks this season, winning two close games in January and February. Tonight should be no exception between two teams who have a history of playing tight games, dating back to an extremely entertaining seven game series in 2007.

Key Injuries:

Dallas: RW Mark Parrish (head), RW Jere Lehtinen (upper body) and LW Fabian Brunnstrom (upper body) are probable. C Toby Petersen (foot), C Brad Richards (wrist), LW Brenden Morrow (knee) and D Sergei Zubov (hip) are out.

Vancouver: RW Jannik Hansen (finger) and C Rick Rypien (hernia) are questionable.

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