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Dallas Stars Look to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive Against Ducks (7:30pm CDT)

The Dallas Stars meet the Anaheim Ducks at the American Airlines Center tonight in what can only be described as the biggest, most important game this franchise has seen in three seasons.

The Stars finish a three day break that saw them drop to ninth place as Anaheim, Calgary, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Nashville and Chicago all collected points during that time. A win tonight puts the Stars back into the top 8 and makes the destiny they hold in their hands much more realistic. If they pull ahead of the Ducks to 87 points they need only win 5 of their last 9 to get in. If they lose they must play virtually mistake free hockey the rest of the way, starting with a five game road trip against Western Conference playoff teams.

A 1-2-1 record against Anaheim this year and an 0-2-2 mark against 10th place Calgary has put Dallas in this predicament, but much like the final plays of a football or basketball game, this game will be the one people remember, even though defeats at the hands of the Ducks in October and November were worth the same 2 points.

19 days ago Dallas carried a 3-1 lead into the third period in Anaheim but lost in overtime thanks to two Duck power play goals by professional Star-killer Lubomir Visnovsky, who had a hat trick that night. If the Stars want to pay them back they'll likely have to come up with some special teams fire power of their own, but the power plays has been dormant lately going 2 for it's last 27 (7.4%).

Anaheim is 7-2-0 this month including four overtime wins (overtime, not shootout, which is key) and they've won their only two March road games. They play five of their next six games on the road.

This one should have the intensity of a game seven tonight, so put your game face on, wear your lucky underwear, sacrifice something to the hockey gods at lunch and get your Stars-loving-behind down to the AAC tonight because it is ALL on the line at 7:30pm.

Continued after the jump...

Dallas will be without some key pieces tonight, particularly on the penalty kill against a hellaciously dangerous unit boasting Visnovsky, Selanne, Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan and more: Karlis Skrastins and Nicklas Grossman are out.

Nick Grossman received good news from an MRI yesterday that revealed his ACL is fine and nothing in his knee is torn as was once feared, but he does have an MCL sprain and will likely miss weeks, not days. Karlis Skrastins suffered a nasty laceration on his thigh against Philadelphia and will be back sooner, but not tonight.

That means Mark Fistric is back in the lineup, back by popular demand even if the injuries do play into it. He will likely be paired up with veteran defenseman Brad Lukowich who has played all season at the AHL level with the Texas Stars and makes his NHL season debut tonight. As a two time Stanley Cup winner he is no stranger to pressure, but one wonders who it will be for him jumping into a situation like this his first game up.

Anything is better than the way the Stars played the last period against Philadelphia: with only four d-men (three when Jeff Woywitka took a penalty late in the third), though Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski managed a heroic effort in bringing the Stars back from a 2-0 deficit to get a point.

At forward the news is somewhat better as it is expected that Loui Eriksson will take morning skate and play in the game. That could change. Concussions are tricky, as Brad Richards knows, but the outlook was good on Tuesday.

Adam Burish (leg) is still not skating. Brian Sutherby is having back spasms and is out as well. Even with those two out the Stars, with a total of 15 forwards on the NHL roster now, would still have to make a decision on a scratch (Barch? Segal? Williams?)

Kari Lehtonen will be in net, naturally.

Anaheim boasts a healthy roster of skaters and will get Jonas Hiller back soon (he's on the trip with them).

Good luck (to us all) fighting through the work day waiting for this one today. Go Stars.