The Dallas Stars sit a single point above the Phoenix Coyotes and the... Winnipeg Jets for the Western Conference's second Wildcard spot in the Western Conference playoff race.
Two points back, and perhaps more dangerous than other challengers given their immense experience and pedigree, sit the Vancouver Canucks, who come to the American Airlines Center tonight to begin taking back what is customarily theirs.
The Stars won one against an Eastern foe out of the break. Lost one. Won one, and lost one again. The out-shot those opponents 147-94 en route to a 2-2-0 record, and the problem in each of the losses was a slow start, and goaltending that wasn't quite up to par.
One of those things was addressed with the acquisition of Tim Thomas from the Florida Panthers yesterday afternoon. The other can only be corrected by their team play on the ice.
"That's not the start we want in any game, especially this time of the year when every game's going to be tight," said Jamie Benn. "There's not going to be too many blowouts from now on, so you've got to come out with a strong start and be ready to go every game here."
Dallas fell behind 3-0 to both Tampa Bay and Columbus before mounting near-comebacks in third periods. In each case that hole out of which to dig was too deep.
Tim Thomas is expected to be in Dallas this morning. Kari Lehtonen is expected to start in net. Rich Peverley missed Tuesday's game but is expected to return to action this evening.
Vancouver trails Dallas by two points and the Stars have two games in hand. A winning hand dealt by the home team could make that mountain very hard to climb for John Tortorella's bunch. This is a really, really big one.
The Canucks had what was possibly the biggest fish of them all yesterday to dangle in center Ryan Kesler, who reportedly would have welcomed a trade out of Vancouver, but he stayed put.
Varying reports had the Pittsburgh Penguins among top interested clubs. The Canucks can still move him at the draft, and now have a better chance to move past the Stars and into the final playoff spot in the West through keeping him.
They'll have to find some offense first, however.
Vancouver has managed just eight total goals in their last eight games, three of which came on the power play. They'll be without Daniel Sedin again tonight but boast the other one, Burrows, Kesler and the whole usual cast of characters. In those eight games they've reached well over 30 shots five times, so they're getting their chances.
They're ready to break out of that funk any time.
On the other side of things they've been remarkably disciplined, never surrendering more than three power plays to the opposition in their last eleven contests. The Stars' power play hasn't been great lately, anyway.
Brad Richardson and Yannick Weber are questionable tonight, but could likely play. They've been without Andrew Alberts and Mike Santorelli for quite some time.
The Canucks, according to Extraskater.com, are still a very good possession team- 9th in Fenwick percentage with the score close. They've lost 10 of 11, but in six of them have pretty strongly out-possessed the opposition.
So don't be fooled by the record. This is still a very dangerous team who would like nothing more than to leap-frog Dallast tonight.
It's Eddie Lack's job to lose in net now with Jacob Markstrom as backup, and his head coach was complimentary after a loss the other night.
"He continues to impress and he was obviously our best player tonight," Tortorella said. "A lot of people haven't talked about him with all the Luongo stuff going on and you sometimes forget about what this kid has done. He stood in there tonight. I love the way he battles and he gave us a chance."
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