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At the Rink: Blues at Stars

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- With five regular-season games to play, the Dallas Stars' chances of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season remain alive as they host the St. Louis Blues at American Airlines Center on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET; FS-MW, FS-SW).

Dallas (37-30-10) is six points behind the Los Angeles Kings for the second wild card from the Western Conference. The Stars lost 5-3 to the Calgary Flames on Monday.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff is tweaking his fourth line, with veteran center Shawn Horcoff missing practice Thursday and the morning skate on Friday with an illness.

"The latest is it doesn't look like he'll be able to play," Ruff said.

Horcoff being unavailable means Ruff will likely employ a fourth line of left wing Travis Moen, center Colton Sceviour and right wing Valeri Nichushkin.

Moen and Nichushkin will be returning from long injury absences. Moen missed 15 games with an upper-body injury and was a healthy scratch in the past five, most recently playing Feb. 17 at St. Louis.

Nichushkin has missed the past 59 games with a hip injury which required surgery, most recently playing Nov. 6 at the New York Islanders.

"I've got options on where I can play them. There's no guarantee that they're going to start together or even finish together," Ruff said. "I thought Moen really was playing well until he got hurt. I'm looking forward to getting him back in."

Nichushkin, a first-round pick (No. 10) of the Stars in the 2013 NHL Draft, completed a three-game conditioning assignment with Texas of the American Hockey League earlier this week and is ready to get back into game action.

"I feel very good," Nichushkin said. "I'm ready to play in the NHL now."

Ruff is keeping his defensive pairs identical from the loss to Calgary.

Goalie Kari Lehtonen was first off the ice and will start a 12th consecutive game for Dallas.

Dallas is 6-13-7 against the Central Division, a record Ruff acknowledges warrants major improvement.

"We were really close in a lot of those games. Some of those were third-period games where the third period was really hurting us," Ruff said. "We do have to be better. I think some of it was the ability to put the puck in the back of the net and some of it had to do with defending."

St. Louis (47-23-7, 101 points) is on the second night of a back-to-back after defeating Calgary 4-1 at Scottrade Center on Thursday to clinch a playoff spot for a fourth consecutive season.

The Blues are currently second in the Central, two points behind the division-leading Nashville Predators, with five games to go.

St. Louis held an optional skate Friday with about six players hitting the ice, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after the win against Calgary that goalie Brian Elliott would start.

Blues defenseman Barret Jackman is set to appear in his 800th NHL game.

Here are the projected lineups:


Jaden SchwartzPaul StastnyT.J. Oshie

Dmitrij Jaskin - David Backes - Patrik Berglund

Olli JokinenJori LehteraTy Rattie

Steve OttMarcel GocRyan Reaves

Jay BouwmeesterAlex Pietrangelo

Zbynek MichalekKevin Shattenkirk

Barret JackmanRobert Bortuzzo

Brian Elliott

Jake Allen

Scratched: Chris Butler, Carl Gunnarsson, Chris Porter

Injured: Alexander Steen (lower body), Vladimir Tarasenko (lower body)


Jamie BennCody EakinTyler Seguin

Patrick EavesJason SpezzaAles Hemsky

Antoine RousselVernon FiddlerRyan Garbutt

Travis MoenColton SceviourValeri Nichushkin

Alex GoligoskiJohn Klingberg

Patrik NemethTrevor Daley

Jyrki JokipakkaJason Demers

Kari Lehtonen

Jhonas Enroth

Scratched: Jordie Benn

Injured: Shawn Horcoff (illness)

Status report: Steen and Tarasenko, who are battling lower-body injuries, remain day-to-day. … Jordie Benn is now recovered from a back injury but is a likely scratch. Sceviour returns to the ice after being a healthy scratch in each of the past two games.

Who's hot: Oshie extended his assist streak to three games against Calgary. … Spezza has four assists against St. Louis this season.

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