Posted March 22, 2012 on AP on Fox
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Despite struggling in recent weeks, the Vancouver Canucks still hold a comfortable lead atop the Northwest Division. They may struggle even more if they're forced to play without Daniel Sedin. With Sedin's status uncertain, the Canucks will try to cool off the surging Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on Thursday night. Vancouver (43-21-9) has stumbled to a 3-5-3 mark since Feb. 26, but still has a comfortable 10-point cushion over Colorado in the Northwest and trails St. Louis by five points for the top spot in the Western Conference. Now, the Canucks may have other concerns. Sedin, who has a team-high 30 goals, left Wednesday's 2-1 overtime loss at Chicago after taking an elbow to the head in the first period. "Everybody saw the head shot there, so (Sedin will be) re-evaluated (Thursday) and I'll know more from there,'' coach Alain Vigneault said. Vigneault called the hit a "deliberate, principal point of contact, everything you're trying to take out of the game." The Canucks, who have lost four of five (1-3-1), got off to a promising start against the Blackhawks after Jannik Hansen scored 27 seconds in, but Chicago tied the game early in the second period and scored the winner 2:42 into the extra session. Vancouver likely can't afford to be without Sedin for too long. Even with him, the Canucks have scored two or fewer goals eight times in their last 12 games. They are also receiving inconsistent play in net from Roberto Luongo, who suffered his fourth straight loss Wednesday. He has given up 17 goals in five starts since his last win March 1. Luongo has lost both of his starts against the Stars this season, giving up seven goals on 56 shots. With Luongo slumping, Vancouver could turn Thursday to Cory Schneider, who is 2-1-0 with a 1.35 lifetime goals-against average versus the Stars, with all three starts coming in Dallas. Whomever starts in net will face a strong Dallas team. The Stars (40-28-5) are 11-2-1 in their last 14, and with just a one-point lead over Los Angeles and Phoenix in the competitive Pacific, each game looms large for them. Though they currently hold the third seed in the conference, if they fell behind both the Kings and Coyotes they'd be out of a playoff spot. Dallas avoided a third straight loss Tuesday thanks to a 4-3 shootout win at over the visiting Coyotes. Mike Ribeiro, who also had three assists, scored the only goal of the tiebreaker after the Stars failed to protect a 3-1 lead in regulation. Michael Ryder had two goals and an assist during regulation while Loui Eriksson added a goal and two assists. Dallas has won both meetings with the Canucks this season including a 5-2 victory in Vancouver on March 6, but won't take the Northwest leaders lightly. "We're going to have to be sharp and a lot cleaner than we were against Phoenix," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "For Phoenix not being known as a heavy scoring team, they capitalized on what we gave them. If we do the same thing to Vancouver, they'll do the same thing." Stars left wing Jamie Benn expects to play after he took an elbow to the head from the Coyotes' Shane Doan on Tuesday, earning Doan a three-game suspension from the NHL. "Everyone's looking to get into the playoffs and they are keying on guys to shut them down," Benn, who is tied for second on the team with 57 points, said Wednesday. "I had an X on my back last night, but I'll take that if they're going to leave our top line alone." Backup Richard Bachman started the win over Vancouver earlier this month, but Kari Lehtonen has started the last two games for the Stars and had 27 saves through overtime Tuesday. Then again, Lehtonen has had a tough time versus the Canucks in his career, losing five of seven starts with a 3.79 GAA.
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