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Stars go for fifth in row; Elliott to start for Blues

Dallas expected to play Lehtonen to close back-to-back

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

STARS (37-15-5) at BLUES (32-17-9)

TV: 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN

ST. LOUIS -- With ground to make up, the St. Louis Blues understand the importance of the Central Division game Tuesday against the Dallas Stars.

The Blues, who trail the Stars and Chicago Blackhawks by six points in the standings, will have 23 games remaining in the regular season after Tuesday, will feel better about their chances of attempting to catch the Stars and/or Blackhawks with a victory. A four-point swing is vital to St. Louis more so than Dallas at this point. 

"We know that we're chasing them in the standings," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of the Stars, who have one game in hand. "We have a couple games in hand on Chicago and every game, every point counts at this point in the season. We want to make sure that we're setting the tone and making sure that we're sending a message for later on down the road when we might have to face them in the playoffs." 

The Blues are 3-0-1 in the past four games and feeling good about their overall game since the return of left wing Jaden Schwartz, which has stabilized the forward lines, and the adjustments made since defenseman Alex Pietrangelo went down with a knee injury. 

"What it's done is it's allowed us to control minutes and balance our time on ice for our (forward) lines in a better fashion," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "… I think [associate coach Brad Shaw's] comfortable in playing anybody against anybody (on defense). I think it works for us. We're not as hard matching as we were before, when [Pietrangelo] was there, and I think it's helped everybody from a confidence standpoint because it all looks like they're playing well." 

Blues goalie Brian Elliott will make his career-high 15th consecutive start. 

The Stars, winners of four straight and five in a row on the road, held an optional skate after defeating the Nashville Predators 3-2 in overtime Monday. 

Coach Lindy Ruff wouldn't disclose any lineup changes but goalie Kari Lehtonen is expected to start, and forward Curtis McKenzie, recalled from Texas of the American Hockey League on Sunday, is expected to replace Colton Sceviour in the lineup. 

Ruff did talk about potential of using fresh legs and the 1-2 punch of Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, who made 24 saves in the win Monday. 

"We have potential," Ruff said. "… We just stay with the (goalie) program. Antti got himself in a pretty good run and [Lehtonen] gave us three good games. The schedule's getting tougher here with some back-to-backs, a lot of games in a few nights. We have the luxury of playing both guys." 

Lehtonen is 13-6-2 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 23 games against St. Louis; he's won his past three starts. 

"We started this off not really knowing what the program is, but it's a little bit of whoever can grab it and go," Ruff said. "I liked the way both guys have played here. It's given us an opportunity when the schedule's got tough to play both guys. We're in a lot different place than we were last year. For me, it's been a total success so far." 

Here are the projected lineups: 

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Eaves  
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Patrick Sharp  
Valeri Nichushkin - Mattias Janmark - Ales Hemsky  
Vernon Fiddler - Radek Faksa - Curtis McKenzie 

Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg  
Johnny Oduya - Jason Demers  
Patrik Nemeth - Jordie Benn  

Kari Lehtonen 
Antti Niemi 

Injured: Jason Spezza (upper body), Travis Moen (lower body) 
Colton Sceviour, Jamie Oleksiak, Jyrki Jokipakka  

Patrik Berglund - Alexander Steen - David Backes  
Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko  
Robby Fabbri - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer  
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves  

Jay Bouwmeester - Kevin Shattenkirk 
Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko  
Joel Edmundson - Robert Bortuzzo  

Brian Elliott 
Pheonix Copley  

Injured: Alex Pietrangelo (knee), Jake Allen (knee), Steve Ott (hamstring) 

Scratched: Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Peter Harrold  

Status report: Spezza, who will miss his sixth straight game, skated with the extras Tuesday and could return as early as Thursday, but Ruff said by Saturday at the latest. … Pietrangelo, who was projected to be reevaluated in three weeks, skated for two days with the team on a two-game trip to Florida. He was not on the ice with the team Tuesday. … Allen took part in the full morning skate, but Hitchcock wouldn't say whether he was close to returning. 

Who's hot: Klingberg has a point in four straight games and seven of the past eight. Sharp has 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) in 58 games against St. Louis, and Benn has 21 (10 goals, 11 assists) in 25; he has a point in five straight games. … Fabbri has a point in four straight games. Stastny has 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) in 35 games against the Stars, and Tarasenko has 11 (seven goals, four assists) in 12.

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