The New York Rangers and Dallas Stars reached the midway point of their respective seasons with impressive victories. Only one will get to start the second half of 2010-11 with a win.
The Rangers and Stars meet for the only time this season Friday night at American Airlines Center.
New York (23-15-3) and Dallas (24-13-4) have been impressive through the first half of the season after both teams missed the playoffs in 2009-10.
The Stars are atop the Pacific Division, while the Rangers are seventh in the Eastern Conference, one point behind sixth-place Atlanta but only six behind Atlantic-leading Pittsburgh.
"We're not the most talented group in the world, but the thing that is going to carry us through is to play as a team," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "That's what has given us our first-half start."
That's been clear with the Rangers getting at least one goal from 21 players, and five netting at least 10. That scoring depth was on display Wednesday, as Mats Zuccarello scored his first goal with 1:51 left in overtime to clinch a 2-1 win over Carolina.
"He has so much talent," center Brandon Dubinsky said of the 23-year-old Zuccarello, who also assisted on Matt Gilroy's goal against the Hurricanes. "He is going to be really special for us from his talent alone."
Zuccarello has three points in six games since being recalled from Connecticut of the AHL last month. The 5-foot-7 left wing was signed during the offseason after a strong performance for Norway at the Olympics in Vancouver nearly a year ago, getting three points in four games for an overmatched team.
New York's 13-7-1 road record is among the best in the NHL, but the team has been outscored 5-1 in losing consecutive away games.
The Rangers fell 10-2 in their most recent visit to Dallas on Feb. 6, 2009, but won 5-2 at home in the only meeting last season.
Sean Avery is making his return to Dallas after spending a tumultuous seven months with the Stars during the 2008-09 season. The left wing and noted agitator played only 23 games with Dallas after being signed to a four-year, $15.5 million contract. He spent the rest of his time there suspended for lewd comments regarding an ex-girlfriend before being re-acquired by the Rangers on waivers.
Avery, pointless in his last seven games, had a goal, three assists and 12 penalty minutes versus the Stars last January in his first game against them since being waived.
Dallas returns home looking to avoid its first five-game slide there since losing six in a row from Feb. 21-March 8, 2009.
The Stars built some momentum on the road, winning consecutive games following a 4-2 victory Wednesday over reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago.
Special teams could be key again after Dallas scored on all three power plays while killing all four of the Blackhawks' opportunities. The Stars are 5 for 9 with the man-advantage over the last three games.
"Power plays were the difference," coach Marc Crawford said Wednesday. "Our power play was performing almost perfectly. We got a couple of pucks to the net with people around it and made a couple of bang-bang plays."
Dallas reacquired New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner on Friday for a conditional third-round draft pick.
Langenbrunner was part of the Stars' only Stanley Cup championship in 1999. He was traded to New Jersey in 2002, and was part of the Devils' 2003 Stanley Cup championship. He has four goals and 10 assists in 31 games this season.
"He hits the mold of the type of players we want on this roster -- strong work ethic, tough, passionate, and hard to play against," said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk, Langenbrunner's teammate in Dallas and New Jersey. "We are thrilled to be able to bring him back to Dallas."
Mike Ribeiro has five points in the last four games, including two power-play goals Wednesday. The center, who has eight goals and 26 assists this season, could be in for another productive performance. He netted two goals and assisted on two others in the most recent home meeting with the Rangers.
AccuScore has powered more than 10,000 simulations for every NHL game on ESPN.com, calculating how each team's performance changes in response to game conditions and opponent's abilities. Each game is simulated and the game is replayed a minimum of 10,000 times to generate forecasted winning percentages.