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Stars have little room for error

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Bill Guerin finally returned on Monday from a thigh injury that had kept him out two months.


That's a sign of how desperate the Dallas Stars are right now.

Down 2-0 in a best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the Stars needed a boost of energy, confidence and goal scoring -- and they were hoping Guerin could bring all three.

Maybe his presence helped -- the Stars did manage a 2-1 victory Monday to pull within 2-1 in the series. Both goals came courtesy of Jere Lehtinen.

Before the game, the Stars said Guerin's return would be a boost.

"His presence, just his voice in the room and on the bench, is going to help out tremendously for us," said Jason Arnott, who played with Guerin in February and combined for eight points in four games before the injury. "You get a player like that in your lineup and it gives you an emotional lift, especially when he worked so hard to get back. With an injury like that, you know he's determined."

Still, he's also a player who last skated in earnest on Feb. 27, who has undergone several painful procedures to heal his crushed thigh muscle properly, and who hasn't ever really dealt with a severe injury in his career.

And this guy is the savior?

"I don't think you put any restrictions on him," said coach Dave Tippett, who clarified on Sunday that Guerin still is a game-time decision. "He's missed a significant amount of time, but he's going to jump into a significant role. We expect Bill Guerin to be Bill Guerin."

But is that possible and does it show just how close the Stars are to the edge in these playoffs? The top seed in the Western Conference during the regular season with 111 points, Dallas is trailing a Mighty Ducks team that has been sneaky good for the past three months. What's more, Anaheim could be getting better with each game.

"The best we can play? We haven't seen it yet," Ducks coach Mike Babcock said. "It's just like the last series (against Detroit); we were way better at home. We're going to be better this game, we'll be a lot better."

And if the Ducks are, then the Stars must also be better ... a lot better. They have no choice right now. Playoff hockey is a game of opportunities seized and opportunities lost, and the Ducks have seized all of their opportunities. While it's easy to call them lucky (and we have), it's also clear they have been smart, resourceful and controlled.

While the Stars waged a war of words concerning the officiating after Game 2, during which the Ducks were called for only two penalties (Stars center Mike Modano said the Stars looked like they had the arms of "heroine addicts" for all the slashing), the words meant nothing Monday. The Stars don't have the advantage of concerning themselves with the officiating, they don't have the advantage of worrying about home or road games, and they don't have the advantage of analyzing good or bad goals.

It comes down now to one thing -- doing whatever it takes to win. The Stars must win three of the next four games, and that means they still have little room for error.

It was even more dire before Monday's victory, and the Stars knew it.

"We've definitely got our hands full," Guerin said. "We're in a tough position right now. Both teams have played well, but by no means do I feel we're out of it or that we've played poorly to this point. But play poorly, play well, play great, it doesn't matter, you just have to have the wins to show for it ... and we don't have any."

And so Guerin returned on a leg he has been pushing in practice, but a leg that had not seen an NHL game in two months and a day -- a span of 26 games. He had to return; he really had no choice.

"We all know I've been out for a long time and it might take me a little while to get back to normal," Guerin said when asked about the pressure of returning. "Then again, if I'm in the lineup, I expect myself to play a certain way. I expect myself to go out and do the things I do and try to score."

The Stars can use any help they can get against a Ducks team that has been stingy in the playoffs. With the team playing solid defense and goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere on a roll, Dallas is looking for the one goal that starts pushing things in the right direction.

"I think teams get into that zone where they feel nothing they can do will go wrong," Tippett said. "With their going 6-0, they just feel they're on a roll. We have to take them out of that, burst their bubble, and the tide could turn very quickly."

Otherwise, the tide could wash the Stars under.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.