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GAME: Dallas Stars (32-15-2) at Colorado Avalanche (28-19-3).
TIME: Thursday, 9 p.m. EST.
With the quality of competition they've been facing lately, the Colorado Avalanche might think it's already playoff time.
The Avalanche host their third consecutive Western Conference division leader as they face the Pacific Division's Dallas Stars.
Colorado opened its current five-game homestand with a 4-3 loss last Saturday to the Central division-leading Detroit Red Wings. The Avalanche then gained two points in the Northwest Division standings with a 7-4 victory Tuesday over Calgary.
Taking on top-caliber opponents has not been a problem for the Avalanche, who have a league-high 24 victories against teams with winning records.
Joe Sakic scored two of Colorado's five second-period goals Tuesday, snapping a personal 11-game goalless streak and giving the Avalanche their first win in three games. He also passed Guy Lafleur for 18th on the all-time NHL goal scoring list with 561.
"It means a lot because as a kid you watched him (Lafleur) in Montreal, doing his magic," Sakic said. "I was fortunate to room with him on the road for the first couple of years I was in Quebec.
"But right now the win means more. We lost a little ground with the losses last week and it was good to get a little back (Tuesday)."
After going 2-2 on a four-game homestand, Dallas takes to the road for one contest before returning home again for three more games.
The Stars defeated St. Louis 4-3 in a shootout Wednesday night, their sixth victory in as many shootouts this season. Rookie Jussi Jokinen ended the game with a goal in the second round. He's scored on all six of his shootout attempts this season, including one in the Stars' 3-2 win Nov. 5 at Colorado.
"I think shootout points are important points," Jokinen said. "We have six points and those will be big at the end of the season."
Dallas had 41 shots on goal Wednesday, including a season-high 21 in the first period.
The clubs have split two games this season. Colorado has won four of six meetings with the Stars since the start of 2003-04.
STANDINGS: Stars - 66 points, 1st place, Pacific Division. Avalanche - 59 points, 3rd place, 4 PB, Northwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Stars - Jere Lehtinen, 24 goals; Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov, 32 assists; Modano, 49 points; Steve Ott, 99 PIM. Avalanche - Marek Svatos, 29 goals; Alex Tanguay, 38 assists and 59 points; Ian Laperriere, 70 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Stars - Power play: 15.9 percent (49 for 308), 20th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (254 for 303), 11th. Avalanche - Power play: 20.2 percent (64 for 316), 5th. Penalty killing: 85.0 percent (243 for 286), 4th.
GOALTENDERS: Stars - Marty Turco (24-13-2, 3 SO, 2.58 GAA); Johan Hedberg (8-2-0, 0, 2.71). Avalanche - David Aebischer (19-11-0, 2, 3.19); Peter Budaj (6-5-3, 0, 2.80).
SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 1-0-1.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 5, 2005; Stars, 3-1 (SO). At Denver, Turco stopped 27 shots in regulation and overtime and made two more saves in the first shootout in Stars history. Modano and Antti Miettinen scored in regulation for Dallas.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Stars - 16-5-1 on the road; Avalanche - 16-7-3 at home.