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Ducks can smell playoff spot

By Andy Lefkowitz

Stats Editor

Dallas (36-35-10) at Anaheim (41-33-6), 10:00 p.m. EDT

ANAHEIM, California (AP) -- A total of two points over the

regular season's final two games will ensure the Anaheim Ducks

reach the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.

The latest hurdle comes Friday night when the Ducks play host to

the Dallas Stars, who finish 2008-09 playing the role of

spoiler.

With 88 points, Anaheim (41-33-6) is tied with St. Louis and

Nashville for seventh in the Western Conference. The Predators

play their finale against Minnesota earlier Friday night,

meaning by the time the Ducks are midway through this contest

they may need only one point to assure playing beyond the

regular season.

"The bottom line is it's the most important game of the year,"

coach Randy Carlyle told the Ducks' official Web site. "I know

you've heard me say it, but this probably is an exclamation

point at this point in our season (Friday) night."

Anaheim is 2-2-1 against Dallas this season, with both

regulation losses to its Pacific Division rival coming at the

Honda Center.

The Ducks need to focus on stopping Mike Ribeiro, the Stars'

leader with 54 assists and 76 points. The center has had four

multipoint games against the Ducks this season, totaling four

goals and six assists.

Anaheim, which plays its final regular-season contest Sunday at

Phoenix, hasn't taken the ice since having its four-game winning

streak snapped with a 3-2 home defeat to league-leading San Jose

on Sunday.

Petteri Nokelainen scored short-handed and Corey Perry added a

man-advantage goal for his team-high 31st as the Ducks took a

2-1 lead in the second. Jonas Hiller, though, couldn't make it

stand up, allowing power-play goals to Joe Pavelski late in the

second period and to Jonathan Cheechoo with less than seven

minutes to play.

"We've been playing playoff hockey for the last couple of weeks,

so it's nice that we get a little bit of a break before our last

two games - especially this late in the season," Perry said.

"It's been a long haul, but we're in a great position to be

where we are. But we have to prove that we belong there."

Continued production from a pair of rookies could be all Anaheim

needs. Bobby Ryan and Andrew Ebbett each have a goal and three

assists against Dallas.

Ryan, a likely Calder Trophy finalist, has four goals and an

assist in three games this month. He leads all rookies with 30

goals and 56 points.

Hiller had been 7-0-0 with a 2.37 goals-against average in seven

starts before losing to the Sharks, and should be back in goal.

He made 31 saves through overtime in his only career win against

Dallas, 2-1 on Nov. 22. Jean-Sebastien Giguere has gone 1-2-1

with a 4.03 GAA when facing the Stars in 2008-09.

Dallas (36-35-10) needed six games to oust Anaheim in the

Western Conference quarterfinals last season, but now won't be

part of the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Instead, the Stars will try to finish the season with

back-to-back wins after Ribeiro employed some trickery in the

shootout on Thursday to lift Dallas to a 3-2 victory over

conference-worst Colorado. He skated in backward and then

flipped a shot into the net off Peter Budaj.

"I knew if I didn't score, I would've heard about it from the

boys," Ribeiro said.

James Neal, second among rookies with 24 goals, hasn't found the

back of the net in the last eight games. He's scored once in

four games against Anaheim.

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