Canucks Game Day: Shooting Stars shining as Western Conference leader

The Stars sit atop the Western Conference, have scored 23 goals in five-game win streak, and Jamie Benn is on fire.

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Dallas Stars (45-19-9) at Vancouver Canucks (45-19-8)

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When/where: Thursday, 7 p.m., Rogers Arena

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TV: SN Pacific. Radio: Sportsnet 650

The buzz: Another perfect playoff preparation against another formidable foe.

The Stars are a point ahead of the Canucks atop the Western Conference and shining with an offence ranked second at 3.66 goals per game. A five-game win streak features 23 goals and Canucks nemesis in Victoria native Jamie Benn, who’s on a heater with goals in five-consecutive outings.

If that isn’t enough to grab the Canucks’ attention to defend with determination, the shooting Stars have enviable depth. The don’t have a player in top-20 scoring, but boast seven with at least 20 goals, and a power play rated ninth.

“Now is the time where there’s not much more fine-tuning,” Benn said Tuesday after scoring in a 6-3 win at San Jose. “You’ve got to be feeling good and on top of your game going into the playoffs.”

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Benn always felt good facing the Canucks. Among active Stars, the captain ranks first in goals (16) and second in points (34) in 40 career games. He also shares first in game-winning goals (4) and has an overtime effort.

For the Canucks, it’s another mission to hone a defensive game that has been a foundation for success.

They’re ranked fourth in goals allowed (2.64) and the vastly improved penalty kill has been a sensational. Those dark depths of a 67.7 per cent struggle a year ago now seem like so long ago.

A current commendable run of 18-for-20 efficiency in the last 10 games equates to a 90 per cent kill rate, and overall, has allowed the penalty kill to climb into the top half of NHL ratings because clears are crisper than they were earlier this season.

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“If a guy has it (puck) on his stick, it’s got to go 200 feet,” Tocchet said of a penalty-kill staple. “And if a guy knocks it down, it better hurt. You better break his hand. You can’t just flip it out, you’ve got to rip them down.”

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Dakota Joshua suffered a hand injury in bout with Blackhawks forward MacKenzie Entwistle on Feb. 13 in Chicago. Photo by Erin Hooley /AP

The return of Joshua: Timing is everything. The Canucks need the big winger to dial in his forechecking game before the playoffs. He missed 18 games with a hand injury suffered in a scrap with MacKenzie Entwhistle. Joshua is his having a career season with 26 points (13-13) in 53 games.

The return of Tanev: The Stars sent a 2024 second-round pick, prospect Artem Grushnikov and a 2026 conditional third-rounder to Calgary on March 6 for the fearless 34-year-old shot-blocker.

The Flames retained half and New Jersey another quarter of Tanev’s expiring US$4.5 million salary. The swap included the Stars flipping a 2026 fourth-rounder to the Devils for prospect Cole Brady.

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•The Stankoven effect: Diminutive winger Logan Stankoven was recalled Feb. 24 after 57 points (24-33) in 47 AHL games. He then scored five goals in a five-game span. The Kamloops native was a WHL standout with the Blazers and had 104- and 97-point seasons.

The history: Canucks won 2-0 on home on Nov. 4 as Pius Suter and Elias Pettersson scored, while Thatcher Demko made 27 saves. The Canucks lost 4-3 in overtime at Dallas on Dec. 21 as Matt Duchene scored with 10 seconds left. Joshua, Brock Boeser and Conor Garland scored.

The hope: Canucks press and find their game early. They lead the NHL in first-period goals (87) and are 34-11-4 when striking first. They’ve also surrendered the fourth-fewest goals in the opening frame (48).

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The fear:  That nagging lack of a complete game effort: can’t sit on a lead, can’t play on their heels and can’t stop forcing the offensive issue. Pedal to the metal will get it done.

The top gun: J.T. Miller has 20 points (9-11) in his last 16 games and has surpassed the 90-point plateau for the second time in three seasons with 91 (34-57). He has nine game-winners and is 10th in league scoring.

The wounded: Canucks: Demko (knee, week-to-week, LTIR), Elias Lindholm (undisclosed, day-to-day). Stars: Alexander Barbanov (undisclosed), Tyler Seguin (undisclosed, day-to-day), Evgenii Dadonov (lower body, IR), Jerad Rosburg, (undisclosed, IR).

The quote: “Hard fought game and a good one for us to realize. We have to make sure we go to spots to score.” — Rick Tocchet following 3-2 loss to Kings on Monday.

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The lineup: 








The prediction: The Canucks turn up the grind and gut one out for a 3-2 victory.

(FAN FORUM: Do you have a specific question for a player? Pass it along to @provincesports and we’ll get it in a future edition.)

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