WINNIPEG -- Nobody needs to tell the Dallas Stars what is at stake for them when they visit the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
The Stars are nine points behind Winnipeg in the Central Division standings. Winnipeg holds the Western Conference’s first Stanley Cup Playoff wild-card spot. Dallas has two games in hand on Winnipeg, and they are four points behind the second wild-card team, the Calgary Flames.
“We definitely know where we’re sitting,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said after the morning skate Saturday.
The visit to Winnipeg concludes a Stars’ three-game road trip. Dallas defeated the Ottawa Senators 6-3 on Thursday before heading to Winnipeg.
Dallas coach Lindy Ruff will give Kari Lehtonen his sixth consecutive start. Ruff also will bring defenseman Jordie Benn back into the lineup after making him a healthy scratch at Ottawa to replace Jamie Oleksiak.
With the wild-card option increasingly looking like the Stars’ most realistic path to the Playoffs, Ruff made no attempt to downplay the significance of keeping Winnipeg within reach in the Western Conference race.
“If we want to keep them in the chase in our pursuit, this is a big game for us,” Ruff said. “Otherwise, that point gap gets to a point where it’s going to be tough to close.”
“[We’re in a situation] where we have to show desperation every game,” Ruff said. “I can go in and say that every game because we need that. Where we’re at, we need that. We need desperation, we need shot-blocking, we need special teams performance, we need to have everything. We need to have a goaltender make big saves. This is a game, like I said, where if we’re going to keep [Winnipeg within reach]; it’s a big game for us.”
Jets coach Paul Maurice tossed out a few surprises for his team after they were swept on a two-game trip through Pennsylvania earlier this week.
Maurice deviated from rotating starts between Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson and named Hutchinson his starter against Dallas. Hutchinson, who had 31 saves in a 5-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, will be the first Winnipeg goaltender to start back-to-back games since he did so Jan. 3-5.
“I just really, really like the way that [Hutchinson] looks in the net,” Maurice said in explaining the move.
Maurice also tinkered with his defensive pairings and broke up his top two pairings. Dustin Byfuglien will pair with Toby Enstrom. Ben Chiarot, Byfuglien’s former partner, will partner with Zach Bogosian.
“We’ve been kicking that around for a while, even before our guys got back [from injury], what our pairs would look like,” Maurice said. “We would like to see, from a [workload] point of view, Toby and Dustin play together while we also think that we have a really strong shutdown pair [in Bogosian and Chiarot].”
Bogosian downplayed any potential for difficulty in adjusting to a new partner in Chiarot, who plays a very stay-at-home game.
“We’ll talk a lot out there,” Bogosian said. “I’ve played with him before. Nothing new. Just go out there and play.”
TJ Galiardi, who cleared waivers and was assigned to St. John’s of the American Hockey League on Friday, will be back in the Winnipeg lineup. Galiardi was recalled hours after his AHL assignment to replace Matt Halischuk. The Jets placed Halischuk (lower body) on injured reserve on Friday.
Galiardi will skate on the left wing of Winnipeg’s fourth line with center Jim Slater and right wing Anthony Peluso.
Here are the projected lineups:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Eaves
Shawn Horcoff - Jason Spezza - Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Ryan Garbutt
Travis Moen - Vernon Fiddler - Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg
David Schlemko - Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn - Jason Demers
Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak
Injured: Erik Cole (upper body), Patrik Nemeth (arm), Valeri Nichushkin (lower body), Brett Ritchie (undisclosed)
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Mark Scheifele - Michael Frolik
Evander Kane - Adam Lowry - Chris Thorburn
TJ Galiardi - Jim Slater - Anthony Peluso
Toby Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ben Chiarot - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba
Scratched: Jay Harrison, Adam Pardy, Paul Postma
Injured: Grant Clitsome (back), Matt Halischuk (lower body)
Status report: Cole will miss his third consecutive game, and Ritchie will be out for the sixth game in a row. … Maurice said that Halischuk will be out “beyond probably even [on a] week-to-week [basis].”
Who's hot: Perreault had two goals at Philadelphia and 13 goals since Dec. 19. Only Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has more goals in that span (15).