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Blackhawks, Stars expect spirited battle in opener

by Steve Hunt / NHL.com

BLACKHAWKS (0-0-0) at STARS (0-0-0)

TV: CSN-CH, FS-SW

DALLAS -- After playing five games as Central Division foes last season, the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars know each other well. And given their recent history of playing plenty of memorable games, the season opener Thursday at American Airlines Center between them figures to add another chapter to what is a burgeoning rivalry.

"I think we've got similar teams; mobile defense, real good on the offensive end," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said after morning skate. "I think they're three lines deep with their offensive talent. They've got a great goaltender. When it comes to speed we're right there with them. When it comes to their offensive creativity I think we're similar and should be a heck of a match."

Chicago heads into the season with most of their roster intact from last season. The Blackhawks did make one notable addition in center Brad Richards, who signed as a free agent in July.

"I think they just got themselves another good offensive player," Ruff said. "It's made them deeper. It's given them a third-line center that has a lot of experience, won a Cup and should help them."

Another new face for the visitors is defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, the younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs wing James van Riemsdyk, who will make his NHL debut Thursday.

"I think it's going to be a pretty surreal experience," van Riemsdyk said. "It's been a dream ever since I was a little kid obviously for this night to come. Going to try to just stay as calm as I can and not let the moment get the best of me, kind of soak it all in and enjoy it but make sure to realize that it’s still a game. It's an important one, so be ready for that."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he doesn't remember his NHL debut very well, only that it was against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Even though it's been a number of years since that night, he still likes to see players like van Riemsdyk, who will be paired alongside veteran Niklas Hjalmarsson, have that same experience.

"It's a very memorable and special day," Quenneville said. "He'll always remember it, how it all plays out from the minute you wake up throughout the game. You always remember your first shift, where you played that first game, and hopefully he'll have some good memories from it."

While Chicago brings back virtually the same team as last season, the same cannot be said about Dallas. The Stars were very active in the offseason, adding center Jason Spezza in a trade with the Ottawa Senators and signing forwards Patrick Eaves and Ales Hemsky, and Anders Lindback to serve as backup goaltender to Kari Lehtonen, who will start Thursday.

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said he has been impressed with the moves Dallas made.

"Obviously they have a lot of skill and speed up front," Kane said. "It's a dangerous team. It's a team you can't give too many chances against because they're going to capitalize and they have a lot of skill to do so."

Here are the projected lineups:

BLACKHAWKS

Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Andrew Shaw - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Brad Richards - Ben Smith

Daniel Carcillo - Marcus Kruger - Jeremy Morin

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Trevor van Riemsdyk

Johnny Oduya - David Rundblad

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Injured: Michal Rozsival (upper body), Kris Versteeg (lower body)

Scratched: Kyle Cumiskey

STARS

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Valeri Nichushkin

Patrick Eaves - Jason Spezza - Ales Hemsky

Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Ryan Garbutt

Shawn Horcoff - Vernon Fiddler - Colton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski - Trevor Daley

Brenden Dillon - Jordie Benn

Patrik Nemeth - Kevin Connauton

Kari Lehtonen

Anders Lindback

Injured: Sergei Gonchar (fractured ankle)

Scratched: Erik Cole, Jamie Oleksiak

Status report: With Kris Versteeg to miss about three weeks with a lower-body injury, Quenneville has plugged the versatile Smith onto the third line. On defense van Riemsdyk got the nod on the second pair alongside Hjalmarsson, rather than Cumiskey, a veteran with 132 games of NHL experience. Rozsival will miss several games with an upper-body injury. … Ruff picked Sceviour for the fourth line rather than Cole, who was late to practice Monday. Ruff also opted for Connauton rather than Oleksiak, a first-round pick (No. 14) in the 2011 NHL Draft, to play alongside Nemeth on the Stars' third defense pair.

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