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Thursday, March 22, 2012
Playoff watch: Several key games

By Mark Stepneski

Just look at the standings and you can see why every game and every point is big right now for the Stars. They still sit atop the Pacific Division and third in the West, but their grip on that spot is precarious. The lead is just one point in the division and just one point on ninth place.

Plenty of big games tonight. The Stars and Canucks square off in a battle of division leaders. Vancouver played last night in Chicago, losing 2-1 in overtime to the Blackhawks. They also lost forward Daniel Sedin, who took an elbow to the head from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith in the first period and did not return. We should get more on Sedin’s status today. The Canucks, who have been struggling lately, played well last night but are just 3-5-3 over their last 11 games.

Los Angeles, one point behind the Stars and eighth in the West, takes on St. Louis, which is coming off a 4-3 loss at Anaheim last night. The Kings are starting to score some goals and have won five straight games.  The Blues, who are on game five of a seven-game road trip, are 1-2-1 over their last four games.

Phoenix, one point behind the Stars and ninth in the West, hosts seventh-seeded Colorado, which is tied with the Stars at 85 points. The Coyotes will be without captain Shane Doan, who will be serving the first game of his three-game suspension for elbowing Stars forward Jamie Benn. The Avalanche are on a roll. They have points in six straight (4-0-2) and are 6-1-2 over their last nine games.

San Jose -- which is in 10th place, three points behind the Stars and two points out of the playoffs -- hosts Boston tonight.

Calgary, in eleventh place, plays at Minnesota.  The Flames are worth watching because the Stars play them in a home-and-home series this Saturday and Monday.