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Preview: Stars at Blues

Dallas looks to close gap in Western Conference; goaltender Carter Hutton will start for St. Louis

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

STARS (16-15-8) at BLUES (20-14-5)

8 p.m. ET; FS-MW, FS-SW+, NHL.TV


Stars team scope

The Dallas Stars begin a three-game trip Saturday looking to rise in the crowded Western Conference standings. The Stars, 4-1-2 in their past seven games, are 12th in the conference with 40 points, five behind the St. Louis Blues for third place in the Central Division and three behind the Vancouver Canucks for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the conference. "We're lucky we're not really playing catch-up because we're in a group of maybe five teams fighting for two spots," center Jason Spezza said. "If anything, we've got a chance to play good hockey here down the stretch and reward ourselves going into the playoffs playing good hockey. This is a big game for us. It's the last time we see these guys, so we can close the gap to three points, or if they win, they open it up to seven, which becomes difficult." The Stars will be without forward Jamie Benn (foot) for a second straight game, and he is not expected to play in the remaining road games on the trip, at the Los Angeles Kings on Monday or at the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday. Benn did skate Saturday morning. "We miss his presence, from whether it's a threat to score a goal or whether a threat to play physical," coach Lindy Ruff said. "Jamie can play the game a lot of different ways." Goaltender Kari Lehtonen will make his fifth straight start, sixth straight appearance. 


Blues team scope

The Blues will turn to goaltender Carter Hutton on Saturday. No. 1 Jake Allen was back on the ice after his first child, a daughter, was born Friday. There was some question whether fatigue from lack of sleep would be an issue for Allen, but coach Ken Hitchcock said the decision to start Hutton already had been made. "[Allen's] still available, but we didn't know the time frame of the baby being born, so we wanted to get Carter ready," Hitchcock said. "We practiced hard with him yesterday, got him ready for today. The plan was to play him in this game all along, to be honest with you." The Blues, 15-4-4 on home ice but 2-3-1 in their past six, want to end a six-game streak of alternating wins and losses. "For me, it seems like we're having success one night and guys are feeling pretty confident and sometimes we try and do a little too much," captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "One thing about this group that I love is that everybody sometimes tries to do too much and take everything on their own shoulders, where I look at that as a compliment. Everybody wants to make a difference." The Blues are 11-5-2 after a loss.


Stars projected lineup

Antoine Roussel -- Jason Spezza -- Tyler Seguin 

Patrick Sharp -- Radek Faksa -- Brett Ritchie

Lauri Korpikoski -- Cody Eakin -- Patrick Eaves

Curtis McKenzie -- Devin Shore -- Adam Cracknell

Esa Lindell -- John Klingberg

Johnny Oduya -- Jordie Benn

Dan Hamhuis -- Stephen Johns

Kari Lehtonen

Antti Niemi

Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Jiri Hudler 

Injured: Jamie Benn (foot), Mattias Janmark (knee), Ales Hemsky (hip)


Blues projected lineup

Alexander Steen -- Paul Stastny -- Nail Yakupov

Robby Fabbri -- Jori Lehtera -- Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz -- Patrik Berglund -- David Perron

Scottie Upshall -- Kyle Brodziak -- Ryan Reaves

Joel Edmundson -- Alex Pietrangelo

Brad Hunt -- Kevin Shattenkirk

Jay Bouwmeester -- Colton Parayko

Carter Hutton

Jake Allen

Scratched: Dmitrij Jaskin

Injured: Robert Bortuzzo (lower body), Carl Gunnarsson (lower body)


Status report

Cracknell will replace Hudler in the Stars lineup. ... Yakupov was skating with Steen and Stastny at the morning skate, but Hitchcock said they'll take their lineup into warmups, which means Jaskin still could play. Gunnarsson did not skate. 


Who's hot

Seguin has seven points (four goals, three assists) in a five-game point streak and has 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in his past 17 games. … Spezza has eight points (two goals, six assists) in his past six games. … Tarasenko has three goals in his past two games after scoring two in his previous eight games. … Fabbri has six points (three goals, three assists) in his past four games. 

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