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Illness sidelines Stars' Spezza against Avalanche

Dallas in position to clinch top seed in Western Conference

by Steve Hunt / Correspondent

AVALANCHE (39-37-4) AT STARS (48-23-9)

TV: 8:30 p.m. ET; ALT, FS-SW, NHL.TV

DALLAS -- Dallas Stars center Jason Spezza won't play against the Colorado Avalanche at American Airlines Center on Thursday because of an illness.

Spezza, third on the Stars with 60 points, missed the morning skate and was ruled out by coach Lindy Ruff.

"Yeah, we got an early-morning call, about six in the morning, that he was up sick all night," Ruff said. "There's no chance he's going to play. Even if he does feel a little bit better, it doesn't make any sense to play him."

The Stars, who have won seven of their past 10 games, could clinch the top spot in the Western Conference and the Central Division with a win and a regulation loss by the St. Louis Blues against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday. Ruff, however, isn't too concerned about clinching scenarios. 

"We talk about winning the hockey game," he said. "I'm not going to sit around and wait for a score from some other team. If we take care of our business and win a game tonight and win our next game, we don't have to look anywhere else." 

To replace Spezza, forward Jason Dickinson was recalled from Texas of the American Hockey League. The 29th pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Dickinson has 50 points (30 assists) in 69 AHL games this season. He missed the morning skate because he was flying to Dallas but was scheduled to arrive early in the afternoon and will make his NHL debut.

Dickinson could center Dallas' second line with Valeri Nichushkin on the left and Colton Sceviour on the right.

"It's an opportunity, [he] gets to play his first NHL game," Ruff said. "We know he'll be excited. Like what he did in [training] camp, how well he played, even in the preseason games, so it'll be exciting to see him play."

Ruff said it's also possible Dickinson skates with fellow prospect Curtis McKenzie, who was recalled from the AHL on Wednesday. McKenzie has appeared in two games with Dallas, and has 51 points (30 assists) in 69 AHL games this season. He was recalled after forward Patrick Eaves sustained an injury in a 3-1 loss at the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. 

"There's some thought this morning that Dickinson and McKenzie played together and played really well together down there [in the AHL], so there's some thought to trying to keep them together," Ruff said. "We could keep Dickinson right between [Nichushkin] and [Colton] Sceviour, where [Spezza] was at yesterday [in practice]."

Defenseman Kris Russell is returning after missing seven games with a foot injury, so Ruff is shuffling his defensive pairs. 

Russell was acquired from the Calgary Flames prior to the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 29 for defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka, minor-league forward Brett Pollock and a conditional second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. He last played March 19 against the New York Islanders.

Russell could play alongside Alex Goligoski on Dallas' top pair, which would drop John Klingberg to the third pair, where he would skate alongside Jordie Benn.

"Yeah, it's tough [to be injured]," Russell said. "I wanted to come [to my new team] and I wanted to play well. Hopefully I come out, work hard, play simple and take it from there."

Goalie Kari Lehtonen will start for the Stars.

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy did not attend morning skate because of an illness. Colorado's lines were identical from a 4-3 loss at the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. 

The Avalanche are likely making one change on defense, with Chris Bigras replacing Zach Redmond in the third pairing alongside Nikita Zadorov.  

Goalie Calvin Pickard will start for Colorado. 

Here are the projected lineups:


Mikkel Boedker - Matt Duchene - Mikhail Grigorenko

Blake Comeau - Carl Soderberg - Gabriel Landeskog

Shawn Matthias - John Mitchell - Jarome Iginla

Jack Skille - Andrew Agozzino - Cody McLeod

Nick Holden - Erik Johnson

Francois Beauchemin - Tyson Barrie

Nikita Zadorov - Chris Bigras

Calvin Pickard

Semyon Varlamov

Injured: Eric Gelinas (elbow), Nathan MacKinnon (knee), Brad Stuart (back), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

Scratched: Andrew Bodnarchuk, Andreas Martinsen, Zach Redmond


Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Patrick Sharp

Valeri Nichushkin - Jason Dickinson - Colton Sceviour

Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Ales Hemsky

Travis Moen - Vernon Fiddler - Curtis McKenzie

Kris Russell - Alex Goligoski

Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns

Jordie Benn - John Klingberg

Kari Lehtonen

Antti Niemi

Injured: Jason Demers (shoulder), Patrick Eaves (middle body), Mattias Janmark (upper body), Brett Ritchie (lower body), Tyler Seguin (Achilles), Jason Spezza (illness)

Scratched: Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak  

Status report:  Agozzino will likely play in his sixth consecutive game since being recalled from San Antonio of the American Hockey League on March 27. … McKenzie will be seeing his first NHL action since Feb. 16 at the Blues. 

Who's hot: Boedker has at least one point in eight of his past 10 games. … Grigorenko has established new NHL highs in games, goals, assists and points. … Jamie Benn is second in the League with 88 points and third with 41 goals, each new career highs. … Eakin has six points (four goals) in his past four games against Colorado. … Hemsky has points in his past three games and five of his past six.

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