LIGHTNING (32-15-5) at STARS (23-19-8)
TV: SUN, FS-SW+
DALLAS -- With the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars currently on tough stretches, each coach made the morning skate optional in advance of their game Thursday at American Airlines Center.
Dallas (23-19-8) lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, and with the Stars starting a stretch of three games in four days, coach Lindy Ruff wanted to give his players the choice of not skating.
"It's the time of year where this gets a little bit tough. We've been on twice a day and we've got four games in six nights," Ruff said. "I'm going to try to change it up here from game-to-game."
Just over half of the Dallas roster skated, but captain Jamie Benn and center Tyler Seguin weren't among them. Benn and Seguin played a game of tennis in the hallway near the Stars locker room.
Center Jason Spezza, who missed practice Wednesday with what was termed a maintenance day by Ruff, skated on Thursday and will play.
"Spezza's good. Everybody else is good," Ruff said.
Dallas placed left wing Travis Moen on injured reserve Thursday and recalled right wing Brett Ritchie from Texas of the American Hockey League.
Moen had missed practice Wednesday with what Ruff called a maintenance day.
Ruff is keeping his forward lines and defensive pairings identical from the Colorado game.
Goalie Kari Lehtonen skated Thursday and was first off the ice, meaning he likely starts his eighth consecutive game for Dallas.
Tampa Bay (32-15-5) lost 2-1 in overtime at the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, but Lightning coach Jon Cooper took many positives from that defeat.
"Everything we did Tuesday I really, really liked except for I guess (we didn't) put the puck in the net. We had our chances," Cooper said. "We just can't believe we only scored one, but we stuck to our principles and our habits, and if you keep doing that consistently they are going to eventually go in for you. They've gone in for us most of the year, they just didn't go in the other night."
Cooper is keeping his forward lines and defensive pairings nearly identical from the St. Louis game with one minor exception. In Tampa Bay's third defensive pairing, Nikita Nesterov will replace Luke Witkowski alongside Jason Garrison.
Cooper will also give backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy his first start since being recalled from Syracuse of the American Hockey League on Feb. 1.
"[Ben Bishop] has reeled off eight in a row. We got a back-to-back coming up here in a couple days and we've got a few this month, so he (Vasilevskiy) is going to play," Cooper said. "He's proven to us up here he can play in this League. It's his time."
Here are the projected lineups:
Valtteri Filppula – Steven Stamkos – Ryan Callahan
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Cedric Paquette – Jonathan Drouin
Brenden Morrow – Brian Boyle – Brett Connolly
Anton Stralman – Victor Hedman
Mark Barberio – Andrej Sustr
Jason Garrison – Nikita Nesterov
Scratched: J.T. Brown, Luke Witkowski.
Injured: Matthew Carle (abdomen), Radko Gudas (knee)
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Eaves
Erik Cole – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Jyrki Jokipakka – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Jason Demers
Scratched: Anders Lindback, Brett Ritchie, David Schlemko
Injured: Travis Moen (lower body), Patrik Nemeth (arm), Valeri Nichushkin (hip)
Status report: Nesterov returns to the Tampa Bay blue line for the first time since Jan. 29 against the Detroit Red Wings. Nesterov was a healthy scratch in the Lightning's past two games. … Schlemko is a likely healthy scratch for a second consecutive game.
Who's hot: Paquette is currently on a four-game goal streak and a five-game point streak. … Jamie Benn and Eaves each currently have four-game point streaks for Dallas.