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The Pacific Division appears to be a two-team race right now. Making it three will be difficult for the Dallas Stars unless they improve their play against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Stars look to end a three-game losing streak to the first-place Ducks on Saturday afternoon when the teams continue their season series.
Anaheim (33-14-8) has been in control of the Pacific from the start of the season, but San Jose has pulled within three points of the top spot. Dallas (32-20-2), meanwhile, would be closer than eight points off the pace had it not lost its last three meetings with the Ducks.
The Stars beat the Ducks 4-3 in a shootout on Oct. 15, but have been outscored 13-3 in losing the three most recent matchups. Marty Turco has allowed all 13 goals on 73 shots for an ugly .822 save percentage in those defeats.
Despite his recent struggles, Turco has solid career numbers against Anaheim. He is 12-6-1 with three ties and a 2.23 goals-against average in 24 games.
Turco has not surrendered more than two goals in any of his last four starts, but that is deceiving because he lasted just over eight minutes Tuesday in the Stars' 4-2 victory over Minnesota.
After Turco gave up two goals on seven shots, Dallas coach Dave Tippett replaced him with rookie Mike Smith, who stopped all 15 shots he faced.
"I just feel like my complete game wasn't there last night, so it's nice to have a good solid day of work to get myself back on track," Turco told the team's official Web site at Wednesday's practice. "My perspective is a lot different than everyone else and I judge myself on my level of play, not just how many goals I allowed."
Smith's performance helped Dallas win for the third time in four games overall and improve to 3-0-1 in its last four at home.
"It was one of those things where we needed to change the momentum of the game," Tippett said. "I like the way our guys stuck with it after that."
Sergei Zubov and Stu Barnes scored 1:38 apart late in the third period for the Stars, who also got a goal from Mike Modano, his first since Dec. 4.
"It's coming for me," said Modano, who recently returned after missing 23 games with a hip injury. "The legs are starting to feel a little lighter which is a good thing."
Dallas' power play continued to produce as Zubov and Philippe Boucher scored with the man advantage. The Stars are 20-for-82 on the power play in their last 17 games, ranking fourth in the NHL during that span.
Anaheim, which has dropped to fourth in the NHL's overall standings, settled for a home-and-home split with San Jose following Wednesday's 3-2 home loss.
Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer, in his second game back from a foot injury, blamed himself for the defeat.
"I can take responsibility for those first two goals. I made bad decisions that allowed them to get those opportunities," he said. "In close games like that, it comes down to a couple of mistakes or breaks either way."
This is the start of a four-game trip for Anaheim, which is 3-8-1 away from home since winning a franchise-record seven straight on the road.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere has been outstanding in three appearances this season against the Stars, going 2-0-1 with a 1.16 GAA.
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