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Raring to go

Zubov, Lehtinen will be back in second round

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Posted: Wednesday April 26, 2000 01:51 AM

  Sergei Zubov Sergei Zubov will return from a sprained knee ligament in the second round . Allsport

DALLAS (AP) -- The Dallas Stars will have an unusual lineup in the second round of the playoffs. For the first time this season, they'll have all their best players.

Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov, who have spent most of their time lately in the trainer's room, are expected to return the next time the Stanley Cup champions take the ice. The Stars will play either Colorado or San Jose, with the first two games at Reunion Arena.

Dallas wrapped up its first-round series against the Edmonton Oilers in five games with a 3-2 victory Friday night.

“To get out in five games is huge,” center Joe Nieuwendyk said. “Now we get a bit of a breather and can refocus for the next series.”

The Stars avoided a trip back to Edmonton and earned the right to spend Easter weekend at home with their families. Coach Ken Hitchcock gave the team Saturday and Sunday off.

“The more rest we get, the better,” said Brett Hull, whose postseason revival continued with the series-winning goal. “That's a team that's hard to play and very physical. There are a lot of guys on this team with a lot of bruises.”

Bruises are one thing. Broken bones, torn ligaments and other internal damage have dogged Dallas all season, making the injury report a better barometer of the team's status than the stat sheet.

The Stars lost 394 man-games to injuries, more than double the 181 lost during their championship season. Most of the wounded were top players, too.

Lehtinen, a defensive forward who embodies the two-way style the team is built around, played just 17 regular season games because of a series of ankle injuries.

He had a fracture, then rushed his recovery and hurt it again. He missed another 35 games then played in the regular-season finale in hopes of tuning up for the playoffs. Instead, it made him realize he needed more time off.

Lehtinen missed the Edmonton series and his return seemed up in the air until Hitchcock made a surprise announcement late Friday night.

“Nobody knew this, but Lehtinen has been skating the last three days,” the coach said. “If he continues to progress, he's a player in the next series.”

Zubov supposedly was to return from a sprained knee ligament when the series went to Edmonton, then there was a 50-50 chance he was going to play Friday night. Now, Hitchcock says he'll definitely be back the next round.

The Stars have missed him most on their power play, which he usually triggers. The unit has just four goals in 48 tries since he went down in late March.

Blake Sloan, whose fast feet and aggressive style make him a real pest to opponents, was lost “indefinitely” after breaking his jaw Tuesday night in Edmonton. That timetable was changed to “back for the second round” after he had two plates inserted Friday.

“We have a chance to start the next series with our whole team,” Hitchcock said.

As great as it sounds for the Stars to have back their regulars, they've been doing pretty well without them.

Fill-in players such as rookie Brenden Morrow, free agent signee Kirk Muller and Sylvain Cote, a midseaason acquisition from Chicago, have made nice contributions and learned to play with a variety of players.

Roles will be redefined and playing time will be adjusted to accommodate Lehtinen and Zubov. The stakes are too high to ease them back in the lineup, although it's impossible to expect them to be at full strength yet.

Dallas players and coaches insist that the team is better off having survived those absences.

Soon, they'll get a chance to prove it.

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