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Predators get Weber, Neal, Cullen back against Stars

by Robby Stanley /

STARS (37-31-10) at PREDATORS (47-22-9)


NASHVILLE -- Defenseman Shea Weber and wing James Neal will return to the lineup for the Nashville Predators as they host the Dallas Stars on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena (8 p.m. ET; FS-SW+, FS-TN).

Weber missed the past three games with a lower-body injury and Neal missed nine games with an upper-body injury. Forward Matt Cullen will also return to the lineup against Dallas.

"It'll be good to get them back in the lineup," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "You're talking about veteran players that bring a lot of experience. They have size, and they bring positional play as well, offense and power play, penalty kill. Leadership part of our locker room, so it'll be good to get them back."

Nashville is tied with the St. Louis Blues atop the Central Division with 103 points and four games remaining. The Chicago Blackhawks are in third place in the division with 102 points. The race for home-ice advantage in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs is in full swing.

"That's what you battle all year for is home-ice advantage and to finish as high as you can," Neal said. "We have four games here to find out where we sit and have a chance to get home ice. We'll do everything we can to do that."

Home-ice advantage has been particularly beneficial for the Predators. They are 28-8-3 at Bridgestone Arena, which is the most home wins in the Western Conference, and have set a goal to win their first Central Division title.

"It's not the end of the world (if you don't), but that's what you want," Weber said. "You play all year, you fight for those wins, you fight for those games to try and get home ice. We know how special our fans are, and we'd love to play in front of them a little more."

Dallas has skilled forwards Nashville will have to defend. Jamie Benn (77 points) and Tyler Seguin (73 points) are each in the top 10 for most points in the League, and Jason Spezza (59 points) has been a dangerous second-line center.

"They've got a lot of skill," Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. "They have a lot of guys up there, Seguin, Benn, Spezza, who can put the puck in the net, so we've got to be on our 'A' game and take their time and space away. It was always close games when we played them, and they're always a really fast skating team, so we're definitely going to have to have a lot of speed."

The Stars lost 7-5 to the Blues on Friday after having a 5-3 lead in the second period. They were down 3-1 and came back to take the lead, but the Stars weren't able to shut the door defensively. Coach Lindy Ruff's message to his team against the Predators is simple.

"Just to make sure we're playing the game the right way," Ruff said. "I think we got away from it at times last night. We had a heck of a push after we got down, but then again we slipped back and gave them a couple of opportunities. I want the compete level real high, and I want us playing the game the right way."

Nashville forward Paul Gaustad will not play against Dallas after leaving a 5-4 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday with an upper-body injury. Gaustad is listed as day-to-day.

Here are the projected lineups:


Jamie BennTyler SeguinValeri Nichushkin

Patrick EavesJason SpezzaAles Hemsky

Antoine RousselCody EakinRyan Garbutt

Travis MoenVernon FiddlerColton Sceviour

Alex GoligoskiJohn Klingberg

Patrik NemethTrevor Daley

Jyrki JokipakkaJason Demers

Jhonas Enroth

Kari Lehtonen

Scratched: Jordie Benn

Injured: Shawn Horcoff (illness)


Filip ForsbergMike RibeiroJames Neal

Colin WilsonMike FisherCraig Smith

Viktor StalbergMatt CullenMike Santorelli

Gabriel BourqueCalle JarnkrokTaylor Beck

Roman JosiShea Weber

Mattias EkholmSeth Jones

Ryan EllisCody Franson

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Victor Bartley, Anton Volchenkov

Injured: Paul Gaustad (upper body), Eric Nystrom (lower body)

Status report: The Stars held an optional skate. Horcoff was on the ice for the morning skate, but Ruff said he probably will not play. … Rinne was the first goalie off the ice and is expected to start. Neal will return to the first line with Forsberg and Ribeiro.

Who's hot: Seguin has three goals and three assists in his past three games and leads the Stars with 36 goals. … Fisher has two goals and one assist in his past three games.

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