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Avalanche-Stars Preview

By NOEY KUPCHAN

STATS Writer

(AP) -- After a horrendous start to the month, the Dallas Stars are dominating on both ends of the ice.

The Stars go for a season-high fourth consecutive win Monday night as they close their regular-season series against the visiting Colorado Avalanche.

While Dallas (24-20-8) went 1-8-1 to open the new year, it's since won three straight by a combined 14-1 score. The Stars have gone 5 for 12 on the power play while killing off all 10 penalties during their run.

"Our power play has been a lot better lately and our kill has been great, too," Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski told the team's official website. "It's a big part of the game. Games are so tight, that one goal on special teams can decide games a lot of times."

Two nights after beating Toronto 7-1, the Stars picked up what coach Lindy Ruff called the team's best win of the season, 3-0 over Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh on Saturday. Sergei Gonchar and Jamie Benn both scored power-play goals and Kari Lehtonen made 24 saves in recording his second shutout of the winning streak.

"The last three games have all been excellent in all three zones," Ruff said. "This one against a highly skilled team and taking care of special teams probably knocks the other two down a little bit."

While several players have come up big over the last three games, Benn and Lehtonen have shined especially bright. Benn has two goals and four assists, and Lehtonen has stopped a combined 66 of 67 shots while compiling a 0.33 goals-against average.

"He's been great," Goligoski said of Lehtonen, 7-2-1 with a 1.79 GAA in his last 10 home stars. "His rebound control right now is unbelievable, he is eating everything up."

Dallas had been outscored 12-6 in dropping this season's first three matchups against the Avalanche (32-14-5) before winning 3-2 on Dec. 17. The Stars have mostly had Colorado's number at home over the years, taking 15 of 22 regular-season meetings dating to April 2002.

The Avalanche opened a three-game trek with Friday's 3-2 win at Florida, but they couldn't keep up in a 5-2 loss at Tampa Bay the following night. Sami Aittokallio stopped 15 of 18 shots over the first two periods in his season debut before getting pulled in favor of Semyon Varlamov, who gave up two more goals on 11 shots in the third.

Colorado entered the final period trailing 3-2 after letting in the game's first three goals - all in the second.

"We had some momentum and I thought it was the right decision to put Varlamov in," coach Patrick Roy told the NHL's official website. "Sometimes as a coach you have to go with your feelings, and we thought it was the right call.

"If I had a crystal ball I guess I would have kept (Aittokallio) in there."

Hoping to avoid a third loss in four games, the Avalanche have allowed five goals in each of their last two defeats. They are 1-10-1 when surrendering four or more compared to 31-4-4 when they don't.

Varlamov, who didn't receive a decision Saturday, is 9-1-1 with a 2.57 GAA in his last 12 games. He is 3-0-0 with a 1.97 GAA versus Dallas this season.

Lehtonen is 2-4-1 with a 3.00 mark in his last seven against Colorado.

Benn went without a point in each of the last two games against the Avalanche after recording eight in his previous five matchups. Dallas is 20-8-2 when he records at least one point.

Colorado's Paul Stastny has six goals and six assists in his last eight against the Stars.

Updated January 26, 2014

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