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Playoff berth in sight of Stars

Dallas ready for best from Darling, Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

STARS (43-21-9) at BLACKHAWKS (42-24-7)

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

CHICAGO -- The Dallas Stars can clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Tuesday, but might have to do it without one of their top defensemen.

Dallas will have seven defensemen take pregame warmup, and coach Lindy Ruff will make a decision afterward about the availability of defensemen Kris Russell, Alex Goligoski and Jordie Benn.

All three participated in the Stars optional morning skate, but it's unlikely the entire trio will play. Goligoski and Russell (lower-body) missed practice Monday for maintenance. Benn has missed the past eight games with a lower-body injury.

Dallas is 3-1-0 against the Blackhawks this season and leads the Central Division with 95 points. The Stars last qualified for the playoffs in 2013-14, when they lost to the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference First Round.

The Blackhawks (91 points) have lost five of their past six games and need to make up ground within the division against Dallas (95 points) and the St. Louis Blues (93).

"I have a lot of respect for the team we're playing and I think we're going to see their best game," Ruff said. "I know what situation they're in. I know what they're thinking. In the same sense, it's a big game for us. I think the table's been set for a heck of a hockey game tonight."

Kari Lehtonen likely will likely make his fourth start in a row for the Stars after going 5-1-1 in his previous seven games. Lehtonen has logged the majority of starts recently over former Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi.

"Kari's been very good," Ruff said. He's kind of settled in and got his game going in the right direction. He's been a big part of us kind of turning it around and being pretty consistent here."

Scott Darling will make his fourth straight start in net for Chicago, which hasn't had much success against Dallas heading into the final game of the regular-season series.

Darling will make his first start and third appearance against the Stars this season, while handling the starting role in the absence of Corey Crawford (upper-body injury). Crawford, who has been pulled the past two games against Dallas, started the first four games against the Stars and went 1-3-0 with a 4.58 GAA and .879 save percentage.

Darling has a 1.64 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in the past three games, and posted a 0.95 GAA and .960 save percentage against Dallas in two relief appearances. 

"It's very important for us, especially at home here against a team that's played well against us and we haven't fared very well [against]," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We want to make sure we're ready. We know the importance of the game. We know it's a four-point swing and we have a lot of room to make up, as well."

After shutting out the Winnipeg Jets 4-0 on Friday, Darling had 31 saves in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.

"I thought all three games were fine," Quenneville said. "His last two were really, really good. He got us points in the last two and almost got us a pair the last game, so he did what he had to do. I like the continuation."

Blackhawks right wings Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane are within striking distance of significant career milestones. Hossa is two goals away from 500 goals in the NHL and Kane is one goal away from his 40th this season.

Kane would become the first Blackhawks player to reach the 40-goal mark since Tony Amonte had 43 in 1999-2000. 

Here are the projected lineups:


Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Patrick Sharp

Valeri Nichushkin - Jason Spezza - Patrick Eaves

Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Ales Hemsky

Colton Sceviour - Vernon Fiddler - Brett Ritchie

Jordie Benn - Alex Goligoski

Patrik Nemeth - John Klingberg

Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns

Kari Lehtonen

Antti Niemi

Injured: Tyler Seguin (right Achilles), Jason Demers (shoulder), Mattias Janmark (upper body), Kris Russell (lower body)

Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Travis Moen


Andrew Ladd - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Artemi Panarin - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane

Dale Weise - Teuvo Teravainen - Tomas Fleischmann

Andrew Desjardins - Andrew Shaw - Richard Panik

Duncan Keith - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Trevor Van Riemsdyk - Brent Seabrook

Christian Ehrhoff - Michal Rozsival

Scott Darling

Michael Leighton

Injured: Corey Crawford (upper body), Marcus Kruger (left wrist)

Scratched: Erik Gustafsson, Dennis Rasmussen, Brandon Mashinter

Status report: If Russell, Goligoski and Benn all play, expect Nemeth to be scratched and Benn to take his spot on the second defense pairing. ... Quenneville said Crawford has made progress with his undisclosed injury, but remains day-to-day. No timetable has been given for when he'll resume skating. ... Ehrhoff likely will be scratched for the third straight game since the game-winning goal deflected off his stick in the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on March 16. ... Gustafsson will play despite logging just two shifts in the third period against the Wild on Sunday and playing a season-low 6:31.

Who's hot: Jamie Benn has four goals and five assists in the past seven games ... Hossa has two goals in five games since returning from a lower-body injury.

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