Avalanche-Stars Preview

The Associated Press

Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan can't get enough of studying the Western Conference standings.

Chances are he won't like how they look if his team can't defeat the slumping Colorado Avalanche.

The Stars go for their fourth win in five games when they face the visiting Avalanche for the final time this season Saturday.

Dallas (24-17-1) is within a point of eighth place in the West after a 5-4 shootout road win over Los Angeles on Thursday. Twelve teams are locked in a tight battle for the eight postseason spots.

"I try to tell myself not to look at the standings, but it's a little like an addiction for me,'' Gulutzan said. "Every day I'm searching them out to see if they've changed from 3 to 4 o'clock.

"We are playing playoff hockey. It's going to be a tough stretch here, but (games) 40 through 60, we've got to be strong.''

The Avalanche (23-20-2), one point behind Dallas, were as hot as any team in the NHL during a 9-1-0 run from Dec. 17-Jan. 6. However, Colorado has managed three goals during an 0-2-1 skid.

The Avs led 2-0 in the first period Thursday but settled for one point as they lost 3-2 in overtime at Nashville.

"Instead of us forcing the issue and playing more in their face, we started to sit back a little bit, and that's what happens when you play on your heels,'' coach Joe Sacco said.

That's what happened in the Avs' last trip to Dallas on Nov. 4. Up 2-0 midway through the first period on goals by Jay McClement and Matt Duchene, Colorado gave up four unanswered goals in the second period and fell 7-6 in OT.

Since losing all three at home to the Avalanche in the 2006 West quarterfinals, Dallas has gone 8-2-1 at home in this series.

The Stars, who split two games in Denver in November, have alternated wins and losses in their last 11 on home ice.

Continued production from All-Star left wing Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson could help Dallas string together some victories at the American Airlines Center. Benn, the NHL's current first star of the week, has six goals and 12 assists while recording points in 11 of 13 games.

He recorded a career high-tying three assists in the Avs' last visit, including one on Eriksson's winner.

Eriksson, who had two goals and an assist in that contest, scored twice and netted the deciding goal in the tiebreaker Thursday. He has 18 points in the last 13 games.

"I thought we took too many penalties, but we found a way to stick with it and get the two points," Eriksson said.

Kari Lehtonen helped the Stars do that the last time the Avs were in town, making 34 saves as the Stars were outshot by 11. Lehtonen turned aside a season-best 42 shots in a 3-0 loss in Denver on Nov. 18, but he was sidelined with a groin injury in a 3-1 road victory over Colorado 10 days later.

Avs goaltender Semyon Varlamov recorded 32 saves in the latest meeting after surrendering a career high-tying seven goals Nov. 4.

Duchene had three goals and an assist in the first November matchup and leads Colorado with four goals in the season series, but he's not expected back until later this month due to a knee injury.

Ryan O'Reilly, the Avs' leading scorer with 32 points, has no goals in 11 career games versus Dallas.