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Stars return home looking to control destiny

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- With four regular-season games remaining, the Dallas Stars enter Tuesday one point ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes for the second Western Conference wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As the Stars begin a three-game homestand Tuesday against the Nashville Predators, coach Lindy Ruff would like to see his team maintain control of its destiny.

Dallas (38-29-11, 87 points) is 8-1-2 at home since Jan. 30, and after going 3-2-0 during a five-game road trip, Ruff is happy to be returning to familiar surroundings.

"We've played well here of late and played some real good hockey. If you asked me if I wanted to play at home or on the road, I'd pick home," Ruff said.

Ruff will use the same forward lines and defense pairings he employed in a 3-2 loss at the Florida Panthers on Sunday.

Goalie Kari Lehtonen will start for Dallas.

"I think his play's been great," Ruff said of Lehtonen's performance down the stretch. "There was really nothing he could do about two of the goals in the Florida game, just tough breaks. One was a backside redirection and the other one was a tip off our own player that you don't have an opportunity to make a save. So his play has been rock solid. He's given us a chance to win and he's made some big saves at key times."

The Stars will be without veteran left wing Ray Whitney (lower body) for a third straight game.

"Ray's still out, still just day-to-day," Ruff said after the morning skate.

Nashville (35-32-11, 81 points) is six points behind Dallas with four games left, meaning the game Tuesday is a must-win if the Predators are to remain alive in the playoff race.

"Obviously this one is probably do-or-die for us," said Predators right wing Patric Hornqvist, who is on a seven-game point streak. "If we don't win [Tuesday], we can't make the playoffs. I know our chances are really, really small, but as long as you have a chance you have to work."

Predators coach Barry Trotz is keeping his forward lines and defense pairings the same from a 3-0 win against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, which gave Nashville its sixth victory in its past eight games.

Goalie Pekka Rinne will start for the Predators despite backup Carter Hutton earning his first NHL shutout with 35 saves against the Sharks.

Rinne was in goal for the previous game against the Stars, a 7-3 loss in Dallas on March 28. For his team to avoid a repeat of that outcome Trotz knows a few places where the team needs to be better.

"The sneaky good line for them against us last week was the [Cody] Eakin line. The Eakin line was really good. It's been really good for them and I think they're catching a few teams off guard how productive they've been," Trotz said. "Last game we didn't manage the puck and the lines very well. You can't mismanage the puck the way we did in this building."

Here are the projected lineups:


Matt Cullen - Mike Fisher - Patric Hornqvist

Gabriel Bourque - Calle Jarnkrok - Craig Smith

Nick Spaling - Colin Wilson - Viktor Stalberg

Rich Clune - Paul Gaustad - Eric Nystrom

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Seth Jones - Victor Bartley

Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Michael Del Zotto

Injured: Patrick Eaves (lower body)


Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Valeri Nichushkin

Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Ryan Garbutt

Shawn Horcoff - Vernon Fiddler - Colton Sceviour

Erik Cole - Dustin Jeffrey - Alex Chiasson

Alex Goligoski - Trevor Daley

Jordie Benn - Brenden Dillon

Patrik Nemeth - Sergei Gonchar

Kari Lehtonen

Tim Thomas

Scratched: Kevin Connauton, Aaron Rome

Injured: Rich Peverley (heart), Ray Whitney (lower body)

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