Avalanche-Stars Preview

The Dallas Stars control their own fate in pursuit of their first division title in 10 years and the accompanying reward of having home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.

There's also a chance they'll open the postseason on the road if they stumble in their final two games, though.

Dallas can do its part toward eliminating some suspense by beating the visiting Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night, and it should know by game's end if another division rival provided the necessary help for it to wrap up the Central.

The Stars (48-23-9) are tied with St. Louis atop the West but hold the first tiebreaker with three more regulation and overtime victories and two games left for both clubs. If Dallas beats Colorado (39-37-4) and Nashville on Saturday, it would clinch its first division title since winning the Pacific in 2005-06.

It has a chance to celebrate the Central crown sooner, though, with a win over the Avalanche and a St. Louis loss at Chicago on Thursday.

"We got two left. We want to win them both," coach Lindy Ruff said.

Winning one at least would secure home-ice advantage in the first round. The Stars would open the postseason on the road only if it loses both games in regulation, the Blues get one point and Chicago wins out with at least one regulation or overtime victory.

Sunday's 3-1 loss at Anaheim that snapped a four-game winning streak didn't help the Stars' cause. Dallas killed both Ducks power-play opportunities and opponents are now 2 for 44 with the man advantage over the last 15 games, but the Stars failed to convert on four power-play chances.

"Clearly the power play let us down. A couple of mistakes went the wrong way," said forward Patrick Sharp, whose four-game point streak ended. "You are not always going to score on the power play, but you don't want to change momentum going the other way."

Although Dallas' postseason situation remains tense, the Avalanche certainly are envious. They've dropped four straight and officially were eliminated from the wild-card race with Tuesday's 4-3 loss at Nashville.

Matt Duchene had two assists in his third game back after missing the previous six, but Nathan MacKinnon sat out for the eighth consecutive time with a knee injury.

Duchene and MacKinnon suffered their injuries during a three-game winning streak that increased Colorado's chances for the West's last playoff spot, but it has lost six of seven since. The collapse will keep the Avs out of the postseason for the second straight year after winning the Central in Patrick Roy's first season behind the bench.

"We expect more from this team," Roy said. "We had some bad luck toward the end, losing Duchene and MacKinnon at the wrong time. I get it. It is such a fine line for any team to make the playoffs.

"It bothers me a lot. I'm in Denver to win the Stanley Cup."

The Avalanche have won the last four meetings in Dallas and took the first two matchups this season to extend their winning streak in the series to eight. John Klingberg's overtime goal gave the Stars a 4-3 victory Feb. 4.

It's unclear if Antti Niemi or Kari Lehtonen will be in net for this one, though Niemi had an ugly .821 save percentage in starting the first three against the Avalanche. Semyon Varlamov, who has a 4.12 goals-against average in dropping four straight starts, could get the call for Colorado.

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