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Stars can clinch Central Division, top seed in West

Win against Predators would guarantee home ice through conference final

by Steve Hunt / NHL.com Correspondent

PREDATORS (41-26-14) at STARS (49-23-9)

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

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars look to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference and the Central Division title Saturday with a win against the Nashville Predators at American Airlines Center.

The Stars are seeking to finish first in the Western Conference for the first time since 2002-03 and win their first division title since 2005-06, when they were in the Pacific Division.

Dallas entered Saturday tied in points with the St. Louis Blues, but would clinch home ice through the Western Conference Final with a win because they hold the non-shootout tiebreaker against the Blues.

Dallas, which has won eight of its past 11 games, hopes to get a boost from the return of defenseman Jason Demers, who will play for the first time since sustaining a shoulder injury March 8 at the Montreal Canadiens.

"It's exciting, feels like the first game again," said Demers, who has missed the past 13 games. "I've never been out this long, so it's exciting [to be back]."

Forward Patrick Eaves and center Jason Spezza also will return for the Stars after missing the 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. Eaves was sidelined with a mid-body injury sustained in a 3-1 loss at the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. Spezza missed the Colorado game due to illness.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff made morning skate optional on Saturday.

Goalie Antti Niemi was first off the ice at morning skate and will start against Nashville, but Ruff said he hasn't decided whether Niemi or Kari Lehtonen will start Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next week.

"I don't think there's any wrong answer right now," Ruff said, "and I've got to give both these guys credit for what they've done down the stretch here. Either one is a good pick right now."

Nashville, which has won two straight and is locked into the first wild-card spot in the West, will rest several regulars Saturday, including forwards Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro, defensemen Roman Josi and Shea Weber and goaltender Pekka Rinne.

None of those players made the trip to Dallas.

"We've got guys that are banged up, [this is] an opportunity for them to heal up a little bit," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "We've got a lot of confidence and faith in the guys that are in the room. Our expectation is to be successful."

Nashville recalled goaltender Marek Mazanec and defenseman Corey Potter from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League on Saturday.

Mazanec, who was 19-14-5 with a 2.33 goals-against-average and four shutouts in the AHL, will back up Carter Hutton, who was first off the ice at morning skate.

Potter likely will play on the third pair with Anthony Bitteto. Mattias Ekholm and Petter Granberg will fill in for Josi and Weber as the top pair.

Colton Sissons likely will take Fisher's spot to center the second line between left wing Filip Forsberg and right wing Craig Smith.

Austin Bass, who played left wing for the Predators on the fourth line in a 3-2 overtime win against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, moves up to center the third line between Colin Wilson on the left and Viktor Arvidsson on the right.

Eric Nystrom, a healthy scratch against Arizona, will play left wing on the fourth line alongside center Paul Gaustad and right wing Austin Watson.

Here are the projected lineups:

PREDATORS

Calle Jarnkrok - Ryan Johansen - James Neal

Filip Forsberg - Colton Sissons - Craig Smith

Colin Wilson - Cody Bass - Viktor Arvidsson

Eric Nystrom - Paul Gaustad - Austin Watson

Mattias Ekholm - Petter Granberg

Barret Jackman - Ryan Ellis

Anthony Bitetto - Corey Potter

Carter Hutton

Marek Mazanec

Injured: Gabriel Bourque (upper body), Miikka Salomaki (undisclosed).

Scratched: Mike Fisher, Roman Josi, Mike Ribeiro, Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber.

STARS

Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Patrick Sharp

Valeri Nichushkin - Jason Spezza - Colton Sceviour

Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Ales Hemsky

Travis Moen - Vernon Fiddler - Patrick Eaves

Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg

Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns

Kris Russell - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Injured: Mattias Janmark (upper body), Brett Ritchie (lower body), Tyler Seguin (Achilles).

Scratched: Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak.

Status report: Potter will be playing his first NHL game since April 17, 2015, when he played at the Vancouver Canucks for the Calgary Flames. … Janmark, who has missed the past two games with an upper-body injury, won't play Saturday but will be ready for the start of the playoffs, Ruff said. … Seguin, who will miss his 10th straight game with an Achilles injury, will resume practicing with the team on Monday, Ruff said.

Who's hot: Johansen is on a five-game point streak (seven assists). Neal, a former Star, has a five-game assist streak and 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past nine games. … Faksa has five points (three goals, two assists) over his past five games. … Hemsky has 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in his past 15 games.

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