DALLAS -- The numbers are definitely not pretty for the Columbus Blue Jackets when it comes to facing the Dallas Stars. All time, Dallas is 31-10-5 against Columbus, including a 15-5-2 at home with all but two of those meetings at American Airlines Center.
However, when these Western Conference foes square off Thursday night here, the result could be a bit different because these teams are heading in different directions. The Blue Jackets, who are ninth in the West with 51 points, one behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings, have won six of their past seven games. Dallas, 10th with 48 points, is hanging on for dear life and could be eliminated if Detroit earns a point on Thursday against the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena.
Columbus coach Todd Richards said how well his club starts could determine the outcome.
"Starts are important. We’ve stressed that for a long time now. Our last 14 games, we haven’t been down by more than one goal in any of those games in the first period and a lot of times we’ve had leads," Richards said. "So, it’s important to get your legs underneath you, especially this time of year. Every shift is critical. You never know when the big play of the game is going to happen. The difference-maker might be in the first period and we’ve approached that, credit to the players who have come out and played hard from the drop of the puck."
The Blue Jackets will go with Sergei Bobrovsky in net for an 11th straight game; the Stars will start Kari Lehtonen between the pipes. The stellar play of Bobrovsky, who has started 23 of the past 24 games for Columbus and has a 19-11-6 record with a 2.06 goals-against-average is one of several reasons Richards can name for his club being in contention for the final playoff spot in the West.
"We’ve been finding ways to win games, whether it’s our goalie that’s been great or whether it was timely goals, blocked shots, whatever it’s been. Again, it’s a confident group in how we play the game and you can see the closeness of the group too," Richards said. "When a group is close like that, it’s a lot easier to go out and play hard in games, especially the difficult games."
Columbus will be missing center Artem Anisimov (concussion), winger Matt Calvert (finger) and defenseman Nikita Nikitin (lower body). Dallas’ lone injury is rookie wing Alex Chiasson (shoulder), who will miss a fifth straight game after scoring six goals in his first seven NHL games.
Dallas defenseman Alex Goligoski missed the morning skate, but Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said the player who leads the club with 24 assists will be back on the blueline Thursday night.
"Yeah, he’ll be OK tonight," Gulutzan said of Goligoski. "He’s got the same thing that Ray Whitney had early in the year. He’s kind of got a little of a spider fracture in his foot there that he’s been playing with for the last three or four games. It’s just a pain management thing for him, but he’ll play tonight."
This will be Dallas’ first game since a 3-2 loss at the San Jose Sharks on Monday, a defeat that sent the Stars teetering on the brink of Stanley Cup Playoff elimination for a fifth straight season. Despite that recent disappointment at HP Pavilion, Gulutzan likes his team’s mentality heading into a huge game on home ice.
"A lot of energy still in that room and still a lot of optimism," Gulutzan said. "I know the room down the hall has got the same thing, so it’s going to be one heck of a hockey game tonight. It’s two teams that have really been battling. No one expected them to be battling at this point and it’s going to be a real fun hockey game."
Here are projected lineups for both teams:
Vinny Prospal – Mark Letestu – Marian Gaborik
RJ Umberger – Ryan Johansen – Nick Foligno
Blake Comeau – Brandon Dubinsky – Cam Atkinson
Colton Gillies – Derek MacKenzie – Jared Boll
Dalton Prout – Jack Johnson
Fedor Tyutin – James Wisniewski
Tim Erixon – Adrian Aucoin
Injured: Artem Anisimov (concussion), Matt Calvert (finger), Nikita Nikitin (lower body)
Ray Whitney – Jamie Benn – Loui Eriksson
Reilly Smith – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Eric Nystrom – Vernon Fiddler – Erik Cole
Antoine Roussel – Tom Wandell – Lane MacDermid
Trevor Daley - Stephane Robidas
Brenden Dillon - Alex Goligoski
Aaron Rome – Philip Larsen
Scratched: Jordie Benn, Matt Fraser
Injured: Alex Chiasson (shoulder)