STARS (5-1-0) at PENGUINS (3-3-0)
TV: ROOT, SN360, FS-SW
PITTSBURGH -- It has been 339 days since Pittsburgh Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis played a regular-season game. That streak will come to an end Thursday.
Dupuis will return after missing nearly a year when he and the Penguins face the Dallas Stars at Consol Energy Center. He last played Nov. 11, 2014 against the New York Rangers, one day after scoring two goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then on Nov. 19 the Penguins announced Dupuis' season was over because of a potentially career-threatening blood clot in his lung.
The 36-year-old was expected to return at the beginning of this season, but a lower-body injury delayed his progress. His status last was updated Sunday, when Dupuis said he most likely was a few weeks from making his season debut.
"I'm excited," Dupuis said Thursday. "Excitement. That's pretty much it. It healed quicker than I thought it would so it's good to get back out there for a real game. … I just want to get back out there. It doesn't matter who I play with or where I play. It will just be huge to get back in the regular routine and play meaningful hockey again.
"It's definitely a little earlier [than expected]. But I feel good and they gave me the OK so it's quite exciting."
Penguins coach Mike Johnston said the decision on Dupuis was not made until Thursday morning.
"He skated a lot before practice leading up to taking part in full practice," Johnston said. "He feels good and there are no issues so he was cleared yesterday to go into a full practice. And we felt he looked good in that and we wanted to wait to see the morning skate."
Dupuis said he has anticipated getting hit for the first time. While Stars forward Jamie Benn said Dupuis will not be targeted, the Stars will grant his wish.
"It's hard not to feel good [for Dupuis]," Benn said. "The stuff that he's gone through has obviously been tough and it's going to be special for his teammates, the fans here in Pittsburgh, and himself and his family. … We're just going to go out there and play hockey.
"There's hitting in the game. If someone has to finish their check on him, I'm sure they will."
Dupuis made a similar return last season when he played in Pittsburgh's season opener against the Anaheim Ducks for the first time since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee against the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 23, 2013. Dupuis had one goal and four points against Anaheim. While he wouldn't turn down that type of performance, he'll be pleased just to play.
"I'd take it but I don't think it'll happen," Dupuis said. "I'd definitely take it. But no, I'm just excited to be back. Finally, like I said, playing a meaningful game. … All I don't want is this thing to end. Whatever they want me to do, whatever line they want me to play on, I'll try my best, for sure."
Here are the projected lineups:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Sharp
Vernon Fiddler - Jason Spezza - Valeri Nichushkin
Mattias Janmark - Cody Eakin - Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Jason Demers
Jyrki Jokipakka - Jordie Benn
Injured: Patrick Eaves (lower body), Curtis McKenzie (lower body), Travis Moen (upper body)
Scratched: Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Phil Kessel
David Perron - Evgeni Malkin - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Plotnikov - Nick Bonino - Pascal Dupuis
Bobby Farnham - Matt Cullen - Kevin Porter
Ian Cole - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Ben Lovejoy
Brian Dumoulin - Rob Scuderi
Injured: Eric Fehr (elbow), Beau Bennett (undisclosed)
Scratched: Adam Clendening, Bryan Rust, Daniel Sprong
Status report: Sprong returned to the Penguins after missing their game Tuesday against the Florida Panthers because of work visa issues, but will not play against the Stars. … Moen was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. Moen returned to practice Monday after missing the Stars' game Saturday against the Florida Panthers, but was out for their game with the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.
Who's hot: Malkin has scored one goal in three consecutive games, each resulting in a Penguins win. He leads the Penguins with three goals and five points. … Jamie Benn has scored at least one goal in five of six games this season, and in four straight. His six goals lead the NHL and his 10 points are tied with Seguin for the Stars lead.