Coyotes-Stars Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 19, 2012
The Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes are in the thick of the crowded Pacific Division race. The Stars are hoping a three-day layoff can help get them untracked, while the visiting Coyotes are looking to continue their success in this season series as it wraps up Tuesday night. Dallas (39-28-5) and Phoenix (36-26-11) join San Jose and Los Angeles in the tight chase for the Pacific title. All four clubs have been alone in first place at various points in the season. The three teams that fail to finish atop the division will be left vying with Colorado and Calgary for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. The Stars vaulted themselves into the division race with a stunning 10-0-1 run, but they've cooled significantly since, following Wednesday's 5-2 loss at Winnipeg with a 4-1 home defeat to Chicago two days later. "We got to refocus and just forget about it, learn from our mistakes and move on," defenseman Stephane Robidas told the team's official website. "It's like the playoffs. We've been in playoff mode for the last two months and in the playoffs, you can't be moping after a game. We just got to move forward. "There's 10 games left, that's what we got to focus on - we got to focus on the next one, we can't look too far ahead." Robidas also feels a three-day break can help re-energize Dallas. "Sometimes it's just good to get away from it, get a mental break." Returning to the ice against Phoenix, however, doesn't seem ideal. Former Dallas coach Dave Tippett's Coyotes are 7-1-2 in their last 10 meetings with the Stars, winning the last three by a combined 9-2 score. That includes a 4-1 win in Dallas on Feb. 7. The Coyotes enter this matchup on a 3-1-1 run after enduring a season-worst five-game slide. They kept their surge going Sunday, erasing a two-goal deficit in the third period before winning 3-2 in a shootout at Edmonton. "Every game matters so much for us right now," said defenseman Keith Yandle, who has a goal and three assists in the past three meetings with Dallas. Ray Whitney leads the Coyotes with 67 points, including six in his last four games. He snapped a six-game goal drought before converting the winner in the tiebreaker against the Oilers. The 39-year-old winger also has been key to Phoenix's success against Dallas, getting three goals and seven assists in the last 10 meetings, including two assists Feb. 7. Mike Smith, a member of the Stars from 2006-08, is 3-0-2 with a 0.96 goals-against average and a shutout against his former club this season. He made 30 saves in a 2-1 overtime home victory against Dallas on Feb. 18. Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson hope to solve Smith this time in order to continue their respective strong stretches. Benn has five goals and three assists in nine games since missing six with a leg injury, but just one assist in four meetings with the Coyotes. Eriksson has had similar struggles with Phoenix, getting one goal and one assist in 2011-12. The right wing has seven goals while setting up eight others in his past 12 contests overall. Kari Lehtonen figures to be back in net looking to rebound from Friday's subpar performance, when he stopped 27 of 31 shots to lose in regulation for the first time in 10 starts. He had been 8-0-1 with a 1.29 GAA and three shutouts in the previous nine. Lehtonen is 2-2-1 with a 2.37 GAA in five home meetings with Phoenix.
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