January 26, 2015

Locked in an increasingly tightening Central Division race, the Dallas Stars are aware they can't get caught looking ahead.

They'll have one more chance to tune-up for a critical homestand Tuesday night against the fading Montreal Canadiens.

Tied with Chicago for first place and just two points ahead of St. Louis, Dallas (40-20-7) will face the Blackhawks on Friday and the Blues on Saturday during a stretch of five straight on home ice. The Stars recaptured some momentum following an 0-3-1 skid from Feb. 25-March 1 with narrow wins over New Jersey and Ottawa.

Coach Lindy Ruff still wasn't overly pleased with his team's performance following Sunday's 2-1 victory over the Senators, in which Antoine Roussel scored the tie-breaker with 2:14 remaining.

''I wasn't happy with our puck movement,'' Ruff said. ''It might be the worst puck moving game for missing passes and not making plays in the three years I've coached here.''

Ruff is feeling better about his goaltending situation after Kari Lehtonen turned in a second consecutive sharp effort. The veteran followed an 18-save performance in Thursday's 4-2 win over New Jersey with 23 against Ottawa.

"I feel like he has put three real solid games together, which is what we are looking for," Ruff said. "He looked comfortable. He looked aggressive. He made some real important saves for us (Sunday)."

Stopping pucks has been on ongoing issue for Montreal (30-36-6) with Carey Price sidelined since late November by a lower-body injury, though a lack of offense has contributed to the Canadiens' most recent slide.

Montreal scored just eight goals over an 0-3-1 trip that likely ended its already dimming playoff chances. It could be further short-handed after Brendan Gallagher exited Saturday's 4-2 defeat to Winnipeg with a lower-body injury.

The Canadiens can at least look forward to returning to the Bell Centre, where they're 5-0-1 over their last six and start a four-game stay on Tuesday.

"It's going to be nice to get home," captain Max Pacioretty told the Canadiens' official website. "These weren't the results that we wanted. We had a couple of really good efforts. We battled back and forth with (Winnipeg) right until the end. We've just got to keep at this."

One bright spot has been Alex Galchenyuk, who scored both goals Saturday and has seven over his last six.

Dallas hopes to get its top two scorers going again in time for its pivotal stretch. Jamie Benn is in a season-high six-game goal drought and Tyler Seguin has gone four straight without a point.

Jason Spezza remained hot, however, by scoring in a third straight game on Sunday to give him six goals over a seven-game span.

Benn does have eight points over these teams' past four matchups and contributed two goals and an assist to a 6-2 win over the Canadiens on Dec. 19. Patrick Eaves has three goals in his last four against Montreal and is expected to return from a seven-game absence caused by an illness.

The Stars likely still won't have defenseman John Klingberg and forward Patrick Sharp available due to lower-body injuries.

Dallas, 19-10-6 on the road, has lost in four of its last five visits to Montreal.

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