Coyotes-Stars Preview

With a demanding trip to face two of the Western Conference's top teams looming, Dallas knows how vital two points are in its last game against a non-playoff contender.

Arizona just hasn't played like a postseason afterthought against the Stars.

Dallas continues its pursuit of the West's top seed Thursday night, but it's the visiting Coyotes seeking a sweep in the season series after beating the conference front-runners last week.

The Stars (46-22-9) are tied on 101 points atop both the Central Division and the West with St. Louis, and after Tuesday's 5-2 win over Nashville, they have a three-game advantage in the first tiebreaker of regulation and overtime wins.

Both teams have five games remaining, but Dallas follows this contest with visits to Los Angeles and Anaheim before facing Colorado and the Predators at home.

"I think we're doing a lot of good things, and we're getting good results because of it," Jason Spezza told the team's official website. "We're trending in the right direction. The games are only going to get tougher and tougher here as we get going."

Spezza scored his 30th goal to give the franchise its first set of three 30-goal scorers along with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin since Russ Courtnall, Ulf Dahlen, Mike Modano and Dave Gagner each hit the mark for the Minnesota North Stars in 1992-93.

Benn has three in his last two games to put him one away from his first 40-goal season. No Stars player has reached that mark since Modano's 50-goal campaign in '93-94 - the franchise's first season in Dallas. He's already tied with Brett Hull in 2000-01 for the top mark since the turn of the millennium.

Team-wise, it's Dallas' first 100-point season since 2006-07. That one ended at 107, but it was only good enough for third in the old Pacific Division and fifth in the West.

"It's a good accomplishment, not a lot of teams hit that," Alex Goligoski said. "We should feel good about that. The team has worked hard all year. We still have some time to add more points."

After a 3-1 home win over the Stars last Thursday, Arizona (34-35-7) has won the first two meetings by a 9-4 total after Dallas swept three last season by a 13-4 score. The games this season have both come in the desert, but the Stars have won the last six in Dallas while limiting the Coyotes to a total of two goals over the previous three.

Last week's victory was part of a three-game winning streak that ended with Monday's 5-2 home loss to Calgary.

Anthony Duclair had both goals and is one away from becoming the second player since the franchise moved to Arizona to hit the 20-goal mark after Peter Mueller scored 22 in 2007-08. Teemu Selanne's '92-93 franchise record of 76 is probably out of reach.

Both of Duclair's goals came on the power play, and the Coyotes are 3 for 7 in the last two games.

"We made some good plays on the power play. You want to capitalize every time we're not ahead," Duclair said. "That's what we did, but at the same time the game is played 5-on-5 and they did a better job."

A loss of any kind or Minnesota earning a point against Ottawa will formally eliminate Arizona from playoff contention in a season that started with promise. The Coyotes were second in the Pacific in mid-January but have gone 12-19-2 since with 2.30 goals per game.

That's put more pressure on their goaltenders, and Mike Smith figures to face Dallas. He's been a new man since returning from a 40-game injury absence, going 4-1-0 with a 1.20 goals-against average and .965 save percentage, though he's lost his last four against Dallas.

Kari Lehtonen has had the majority of the starts for the Stars lately, posting a 1.77 GAA and .941 save percentage over a 3-1-0 span. He's notched 1.51 and .950 marks over a 5-1-0 run against the Coyotes.

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