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At the Rink: Stars at Blues

by Louie Korac / NHL.com

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff have been around the game long enough to know to expect the unexpected when it comes to games after the Christmas break.

The Blues (21-11-4) and Stars (26-7-2) meet Saturday at Scottrade Center (8 p.m. ET; FS-SW+, FS-MW) in a heated Central Division battle in the first of back-to-back games against each other. They'll meet again Sunday in Dallas.

"I've found these games between Christmas and New Year's to be some of the wildest, most bizarre games you've ever coached in," said Hitchcock, whose team has won four of five. "Just when you think you've got it figured out, you lay an egg. When you think you're going to have a tough time playing back-to-back because you haven't practiced, you play great.

"I don't think you can take anything from the next two or three games other than try to get points and go from there because you're going to see guys at different levels of fitness, you're going to see people at different levels of mental sharpness. I think you've just got to be able to play and move on. Once January 1st turns, there's a whole other temperature in the League."

Ruff, a close friend of Hitchcock, agreed.

"Every team is the same," Ruff said. "All teams had three days off, all players want to take care of themselves the best way they think they can be ready for this game. I've seen some players that can come out of this and play unbelievable and the energy's great and I've seen the opposite at the same time.

"Because of Christmas and families and all the people that are in town and the fact that you've had three days and most teams will play three games in four nights and you won't practice, there's a lot of stuff that can happen. I think the history of being around it and [Hitchcock's] been around it long enough that sometimes you can get a pretty solid game and sometimes you can get a pretty loosely contested game."

The Stars, who have won three in a row while outscoring opponents 16-5, have been shut out once this season -- losing 3-0 to the Blues on Dec. 12 at Scottrade Center.

"Our last trip in here, we got away from our game," Ruff said. "We were undisciplined. We took a couple tough penalties right off the bat that really allowed these guys to get the jump on us. We know what our game is and that isn't our game."

Here are the projected lineups:

STARS

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Sharp

Valeri Nichushkin - Jason Spezza - Ales Hemsky

Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Colton Sceviour

Mattias Janmark - Vernon Fiddler - Patrick Eaves

Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg

Johnny Oduya - Jason Demers

Jyrki Jokipakka - Jordie Benn

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Injured: None

Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, Travis Moen

BLUES

Magnus Paajarvi - Paul Stastny - Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen - David Backes - Troy Brouwer

Robby Fabbri - Jori Lehtera - Scottie Upshall

Jordan Caron - Dmitrij Jaskin - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Colton Parayko - Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson - Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen

Brian Elliott

Injured: Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder), Steve Ott (hamstring), Kyle Brodziak (cut)

Scratched: Scott Gomez, Joel Edmundson

Status report: Gunnarsson returns to the lineup for the Blues after missing a 2-0 victory at the Boston Bruins on Dec. 22 with an upper-body injury. He will take Edmundson's spot and play alongside Bortuzzo. "We're not going to take [Gunnarsson] out because of an injury; a guy doesn't lose his spot on the team because of an injury," Hitchcock said. "We'll go with this combination and see how it looks tonight." ... Brodziak, who has missed three games after being cut by a skate Dec. 17 against the Nashville Predators, took part in the morning skate Saturday but will not play. Hitchcock said Brodziak is day-to-day.

Who's hot: Tarasenko has a seven-game point streak (six goals, five assists). ... Jamie Benn, Sharp and Spezza each have three-game point streaks with two goals and three assists.

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