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BLUE JACKETS (9-22-5) at STARS (20-14-1)
TV: FS-Ohio (HD), FS-Southwest (HD)
LAST 10: Columbus 2-6-2; Dallas 5-5-0
Season Series: Dallas has won the first two meetings with Columbus this season, but the teams haven't met since the Stars' 3-2 win at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 18.
Big Story: When the Stars got off to their strong start this season, much of it was due to the stellar play of goalie Kari Lehtonen. When the starting netminder went on IR a month ago with a groin injury, the Stars struggled before rookie Richard Bachman took over. But that could all change Thursday night, as Lehtonen is expected to play for the first time since being injured on Nov. 26.
Blue Jackets: When looking to see what has gone wrong for Columbus this season it might be easier to really look and see what's gone right. The answer is not much. For a team that had high expectations after adding James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter in the offseason, there have been a number of bumps in the road -- most notably Wisniewski's eight-game suspension and Carter's injury earlier this season -- that have left the Jackets floundering with the fewest points in the League.
The light at the end of the tunnel seems particularly far away at the moment, as Columbus dropped a shootout to Calgary on Tuesday night that has left the Jackets winless in six games. To make matters worse, the Jackets are about to play 11 of their next 16 games on the road, where they haven't won in regulation all season.
Stars: Getting Lehtonen back in net will be a huge boost for the Stars if he shows the form he had earlier this season. The Finnish netminder is returning to a team that has lost three of its last four games, most recently a 5-3 loss at St. Louis on Monday night. Dallas is likely hoping that returning home to the Lone Star State will give them a boost. The Stars enter a three-game homestand with an 11-5-1 record.
Despite the recent struggles, Dallas is still battling with San Jose for the top spot in the Pacific Division, but each game is becoming more crucial as the margin of error in the West is almost shockingly slim. The Stars are just one point up on Calgary, the first team on the outside of the top eight looking in.
Who's Hot: Despite the Jackets' struggles, Derick Brassard is looking impressive with five points in his last four games. ... Typically known as an agitator, Steve Ott has six points in his last six games.
Injury Report: Dallas could be short on the blue line. Sheldon Souray is doubtful with a sprained ankle and Stephane Robidas is questionable with a bone bruise in his foot. Having the pair out would severely weaken the Stars' defense. … The Jackets will have a nearly full lineup with the exception of Kristian Huselius, who has been out since earlier December with a groin injury.
Stat Pack: Few teams seem to rely on strong play from the goaltender as much as Dallas has this season. Lehtonen boasts an impressive 13-4-1 mark with a 2.34 goals-against average this season. The rest of the Stars' goalies are 7-5-0 with a 3.08 GAA.
Puck Drop: Dallas is a team badly in need of a win and could be getting the right opponent at the right time when Columbus comes to town. The Jackets' road struggles are widely noted, but even more reassuring for the Stars might be that Steve Mason is expected to start for Columbus. The former Calder Trophy winner has an 0-8-0 mark on the road, where he's giving up nearly five goals per game.