STARS (20-13-1) at BLUES (20-10-4)
TV: VERSUS (HD)
Dallas 6-4-0; St. Louis 6-2-2
Second of four meetings. When the teams met on Oct. 13 in Dallas, the Stars built a three-goal lead and then held off the Blues for a 3-2 victory, as Kari Lehtonen
made 36 saves.
Lehtonen was off to the best start of his career and had the Stars competing for first place in the Pacific Division when he injured his groin Nov. 26 in Phoenix, but rookie Richard Bachman
has filled in admirably in his absence. Bachman has started seven straight games and won five of them, and Dallas remains in a tie with San Jose atop the division. Coach Glen Gulutzan told the team website prior to the holiday break that Lehtonen would likely return "at some point before the new year, somewhere in that six-day block [between Dec. 26 and 31]."
Taking advantage of a Nashville team that played the night before and had to expend a lot of energy in coming back from a three-goal deficit, Dallas came out fast and built a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes Friday, en route to a 6-3 victory. The Predators twice cut the Stars' lead down to a single goal, but Jamie Benn
scored 30 seconds after David Legwand had made it a 4-3 game, then Michael Ryder
added an empty-netter. The goal was Ryder's third point of the night.
"Everyone was harping on the bench that we had to keep driving," said Vernon Fiddler
, who opened the scoring. "We had a little more energy, and when that happens you can keep going."
It was almost unfathomable back when St. Louis changed coaches in early November to think the Blues could pass the Red Wings before Christmas, but that's exactly what happened after their 3-2 win over the Coyotes in Phoenix on Friday. St. Louis moved into second in the Central, just four points back of the division-leading Blackhawks. They're 14-3-4 since Ken Hitchcock took over the reins. It was a Jason Arnott
goal 1:48 into the third that proved decisive, while Brian Elliott
made 24 saves.
"We skated well and that was key for us," forward Evgeny Grachev
said in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "The whole team stayed with it. We weren't good every shift, but after a bad one, we were right back at it."
Who's Hot: Loui Eriksson
(2-6-8), Ryder (4-3-7) and Benn (2-5-7) all have five-game points streaks active for the Stars. Mike Ribeiro
has 3 goals and 8 assists in his last 10 games. ... Arnott has goals in three of his last four games for the Blues. Elliott earned his 14th win Friday and maintained his NHL-leading goals-against average (1.55), though he fell into a tie for second in save percentage (.943), one percentage point behind the Bruins' Tuukka Rask.
In addition to Lehtonen, forward Tomas Vincour
(knee) is also on injured reserve for Dallas, while defensemen Sheldon Souray
(ankle) and Stephane Robidas
(foot) are day-to-day. Robidas has missed the past two games, while Souray missed the third period against Nashville. ... St. Louis forward Ryan Reaves
(hip) is day-to-day, while defensemen Kent Huskins
(ankle) and forwards B.J. Crombeen
(scapula), Vladimir Sobotka
(ankle) and Andy McDonald
(concussion) are on injured reserve. McDonald, who hasn't played since Oct. 13, did some light skating at the team practice facility prior to the holiday break.
Benn and Ryder share the Stars' lead for game-winning goals with 3 apiece. ... Alex Steen
not only leads the Blues with 12 goals, he has a plus-22 rating, tied for third in the League.
Versus will televise this game nationally in the United States, which accounts for what will be a 6:30 p.m. local start for two teams that play in the Central Time Zone.