By Dave Vest
DALLAS – The Coyotes will start a three-game trip and attempt to win their ninth straight game when they play the Dallas Stars today at the American Airlines Center. The puck drops at 4 p.m. (Arizona time).
Backup goalie Jason LaBarbera will start in net for Phoenix (45-22-5), which hasn't lost a game since March 2.
"Jason is a great guy in our dressing room and is very well-liked and very well-respected," Coyotes center Vernon Fiddler said. "When he goes into the net (today) I think that will bring a little more energy to our team than usual because we want to play hard for him... I think the guys in the dressing room are really going to rally for 'Barbs' because he's played so well for us and he' such a great guy."
Today's game will be tricky for the Coyotes because it will start less than 24 hours after Phoenix rallied to beat the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-4 in a shootout, in Glendale. In Saturday's game, the Coyotes scored three third-period goals for the second straight game.
The Coyotes will enter today's game in fourth place in the Western Conference standings with 95 points, but just two points behind first-place Chicago, which is idle. Phoenix can move into a tie for the Western Conference lead if the Coyotes can beat Dallas and the San Jose Sharks lose to the Edmonton Oilers.
Dallas (31-27-13) is eight points behind eighth-place Detroit in the Western Conference standings and, with just 11 games left, needs points to stay in contention. The Stars haven’t missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1987 and 1988, when the franchise was based in Minnesota.
"We know what's at stake," Stars defenseman Trevor Daley told reporters. "We know it's an uphill battle."
Coyotes right wing Lee Stempniak has scored nine goals in eight games with Phoenix, including two on Saturday in a win over Chicago.
Stars center Brad Richards has notched six points in the past four games, including two goals on Saturday in a win over Ottawa.
A victory by the Coyotes would tie the franchise record set when the Winnipeg Jets won nine games in a row in 1984-85.
Stars goalie Marty Turco has watched Kari Lehtonen play ahead of him the past three games but he may get the call today considering he shut out Phoenix twice in February.
Both teams will be playing their third game in four days. The Coyotes have been in a different time zone for each of those games.
"Everyone is going to have to step up a little bit more and we're going to have to find some energy somehow."