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Deflated Stars Fear The Worst

Now the Dallas Stars have to win three straight from the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings to prove they are the best team in hockey this season.

Despite finishing with the best record in the league during the regular season, the Stars are one game away from playoff elimination after Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Red Wings.

"We are playing our game, and we are playing as well as Detroit in almost every area," Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said. "But you can't beat the Stanley Cup champions by being as good as they are. You have to be better in every way, because they are going to get all the breaks. And they've earned them."

The Stars trail the series 3-1 and are facing elimination in Game 5 on Wednesday.

"The best teams are the ones who rise up to challenges like this," Brian Skrudland said. "We can't look at this as an overwhelming obstacle, we have to look at it as just one more challenge in our way."

The Stars' task will be made tougher by the probable Game 5 absence of defenseman Richard Matvichuk, who left in the second period with a shoulder injury. Dallas was already missing defenseman Shawn Chambers with a sprained knee.

"Losing Richard is a huge blow, especially with Shawn already out of the lineup," Darryl Sydor said. "Those two are a really big part of our defense."

Hitchcock called Matvichuk "very doubtful" for Wednesday, but Matvichuk wasn't as sure.

"I don't know what's going to happen between now and Wednesday, but if there is any chance of me playing, I will," he said. "And if I can't, there are a lot of guys behind me who will be ready to step in."

Matvichuk had some advice for his teammates as they return to Texas.

"We have to stick to our game plan, and keep playing the way we are playing," he said. "We are getting more chances than they are by three or four to one, and eventually, the bounces have to start going our way. We just have to be patient."

Skrudland, while agreeing with Matvichuk, felt that there will be another key to victory.

"This was a really hot, humid day, and we were basically only playing two lines at the start of the game," he said. "That's tiring, and it is also frustrating for the guys who aren't getting in. Once we started using all four lines, we really got going. Maybe Hitch will look at that, or maybe I'll just get in trouble for saying this."

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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