Devils host Stars in contest void of playoff meaning

The Dallas Stars begin a five-game road trip while the New Jersey Devils play the middle contest of a three-game homestand Sunday at the Prudential Center.

Neither team is in the playoff picture. The Devils (27-35-12) are already out of the postseason race in the Eastern Conference and the Stars (30-33-11) are ahead of only the last-overall Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division.

However, the Stars played improved hockey in the past week, and arrive in New Jersey with points in three straight games (2-0-1). They come off a 6-1 thrashing of the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, a contest which featured Adam Cracknell's first career hat trick.

"Everyone else was bringing up the (hat trick), but I was trying not to think about it," Cracknell said to reporters following the game. "It's like trying to pitch a perfect game and guys keep bringing it up. To see the guys as excited as they were, it was just a great feeling to walk into that room."

Jason Spezza, who returned to the Stars lineup following a two-game injury absence, contributed three assists against the Sharks while Dallas captain Jamie Benn scored his team-high 25th goal and Tyler Seguin picked up an assist in his 500th career game.

Goaltender Kari Lehtonen started each of the last three games for Dallas, stopping 74 of 77 shots. He is one victory shy of reaching 20 wins for the eighth time in his career.

Dallas is without veteran winger Patrick Sharp, who undergoes season-ending hip surgery Tuesday. Sharp, selected as the team's Masterton Trophy nominee Saturday, suffered two concussions this season, to go along with the hip ailment.

"This was a tough, tough year for him, and he gave everything he had," Stars general manager Jim Nill said of Sharp, who recorded eight goals and 18 points in 47 games.

With Sharp joining fellow injured forwards Antoine Roussel and Jiri Hudler off the ice, the Stars recalled their 2013 first-round draft pick Jason Dickinson from the minor leagues Saturday.

Dickinson, who notched 30 points (nine goals) in 55 games at the American Hockey League level this year, has one game of NHL experience, and he scored a goal in his debut last April.

The Stars kick off their final road trip of the season against a Devils team that lost four of its previous five games, including Saturday's 3-1 home-ice defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.

That loss officially eliminated the last-place Devils from playoff contention for a fifth consecutive season.

"It's never fun when you don't make the playoffs," Devils captain Andy Greene said. "It's one more year, one less chance to try and win, and it's no fun. We work, we train, all summer and all year to fight for a playoff spot and get in; so, when you don't, it's disappointing."

One major reason the Devils are again on the outside looking in at the postseason is their lack of production on offense. New Jersey has 170 goals this season, fewest in the Eastern Conference. Saturday marked the 22nd time this season the Devils scored one goal or fewer.

"You still have to score goals to win games," said Devils forward Kyle Palmieri, who leads the team with 25 goals.

Veteran center Travis Zajac had New Jersey's lone marker Saturday, his first in 11 games.

Taylor Hall, who assisted on the goal, enters play Sunday with points in three straight games. Since Feb. 19, Hall has 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 16 contests.

With eight dates remaining on their schedule, the Devils look to finish this disappointing season on a positive note.

"These last couple games or so, we're home for a few of them, you want to start stringing some wins together and get that positive vibe back in the locker room," said Palmieri. "Even though it might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, it's pretty big for your psyche going into the summer."
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