Stars-Canucks Preview

The Associated Press

While a pair of hot goaltenders have the Vancouver Canucks fighting for the NHL's best record, the Dallas Stars are relying heavily on one in hopes of just getting into the playoffs.

Roberto Luongo is expected to start opposite Kari Lehtonen when the Canucks host the Stars on Friday night in what could be a preview of a first-round playoff matchup.

Vancouver (47-21-9) already has clinched the Northwest Division and is chasing St. Louis and the New York Rangers in the race for the Presidents' Trophy.

Part of the Canucks' success has been due to the play of Luongo and backup Cory Schneider, who is 11-2-1 with a 1.77 goals-against average in his last 14 games.

Luongo is 2-0-1 over his past three starts, stopping 111 of 115 shots, and beat Los Angeles 1-0 on Monday in his most recent one. However, Schneider was in net two nights later and the result was the same as he made 43 saves in a 1-0 win over Colorado.

Despite his outstanding play, Schneider is well aware Luongo will be the Canucks' No. 1 option in net during the playoffs.

"I think clearly he's the guy that's going to start and if it's necessary for me to hop in at some point, so be it," Schneider said. "I'm not worried about what's going to happen in two weeks."

Luongo's 2.14 career GAA versus Dallas is his lowest against any Western Conference opponent.

The Stars (42-30-5) also can appreciate having strong goaltending since Lehtonen is 11-3-1 with a 1.83 GAA and three shutouts in his last 15 games.

That's a big reason Dallas is in a tight race with San Jose, Los Angeles and Phoenix for the Pacific Division title. At least one of those clubs not winning the division will miss the playoffs, and another would likely meet the Canucks in the opening round.

Lehtonen came up big again Wednesday, stopping 31 shots in a 3-1 win at Edmonton.

"It was a big two points for us," Lehtonen said. "Every game is tough right now."

He's split two starts versus the Canucks this season - both in the past five weeks - and allowed two goals in each. Lehtonen had been 1-5-0 with a 4.16 GAA in his previous six starts against them. He's lost his only two games in Vancouver, surrendering 10 goals.

Lehtonen turned aside 26 shots in a 2-1 home loss to the Canucks last Thursday as Schneider stopped 25.

Michael Ryder went pointless in that meeting but has five goals and five assists in 10 career matchups with Vancouver, including two assists in a 5-2 road victory March 6.

The right wing has two goals and two assists during a three-game point streak since the last meeting with the Canucks.

Mike Ribeiro also was held without a point in last week's matchup and missed a penalty shot, but he has eight points over his past five games with a goal in each of the last two.

Vancouver's Chris Higgins has three goals in his past three games and has a team-high four points in the season series with Dallas.

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