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Stars turn to Niemi against Wild in Game 4

Veteran starts instead of Lehtonen; Wild's Vanek skates, remains out

by Dan Myers / Correspondent

Game 4: STARS at WILD

Western Conference First Round

Dallas leads best-of-7 series 2-1

TV: 8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, FS-SW, FS-N, FS-WI, SN360, TVA Sports 3

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Dallas Stars will make a goaltending change for Game 4 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday.

Antti Niemi, a veteran of 62 Stanley Cup Playoff games, will start his first game of the series in place of Kari Lehtonen, who played in each of the first three games.

Lehtonen and Niemi rotated games down the stretch, but Lehtonen started and won Games 1 and 2, making 47 saves on 48 shots faced in the span. He allowed four goals on 24 shots in a Game 3 loss.

For Niemi, it will be his first start since a win against the Nashville Predators on April 9. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said he isn't worried about Niemi's long layoff because there have been stretches earlier this season, including two in March, where Niemi went 11 days without game action.

"He's a workaholic," Ruff said. "He was out there [in March] working to fix his game, he kept telling [Stars goaltending coach] Jeff [Reese], 'I'm ready to go, I feel great.' I think there are different times, when you look around the League, when a goalie has struggled. The good part is, we had someone else to go in and fill the void for us."

As coach of the Buffalo Sabres from 1997-2013, Ruff was rarely one to use a goalie rotation. He leaned heavily on Lehtonen in his first two seasons with the Stars before they signed Niemi last summer, giving Dallas two established, veteran options.

"I think it's gone as good, even a lot better than I expected," Ruff said. "We stuck with it the whole year, we had a tremendous start in which both guys played well. We had a little bit of a run where they struggled, but the other guy stepped in and did a good job. I feel it couldn't have gone better. And the reason I feel we finished on top at the end was because both guys played so well. I think if I had probably played one, we might not have gotten to where we wanted to go."

Forward Tyler Seguin is day-to-day and will miss Game 4 while continuing to rehab from an Achilles injury. Defenseman Kris Russell skated again Wednesday and could rejoin the lineup after missing Game 3 because of an illness. 

Minnesota presented no changes to its lineup during line rushes at the morning skate, meaning rookie forward Kurtis Gabriel is likely to play again in place of veteran Ryan Carter.  

"He was good on the forecheck, creating some turnover situations, being a hard F-1. I think everyone knows he likes to fight," Wild coach John Torchetti said of Gabriel. "I just think that we need that scrappy kind of player in our lineup and that makes the rest of the guys feel more comfortable."

Forward Thomas Vanek skated with the Wild and is improving, but he's still not ready to play. He did not rule out a return during this series if it goes six or seven games.

"I really ramped it up the last few days here, and I feel good, but, again, I just need time, and there's not a whole lot of it right now," Vanek said. "I'll just keep pushing it and see where it goes."

Here are the projected lineups:


Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Patrick Sharp

Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Valeri Nichushkin

Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Ales Hemsky

Colton Sceviour - Vernon Fiddler - Patrick Eaves

Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg

Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns

Kris Russell - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

Injured: Tyler Seguin (Achilles)

Scratched: Jordie Benn, Travis Moen, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak


Mikael Granlund - Mikko Koivu - David Jones

Nino Niederreiter - Erik Haula - Jason Pominville

Jason Zucker - Charlie Coyle - Justin Fontaine

Chris Porter - Zac Dalpe - Kurtis Gabriel

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Marco Scandella - Nate Prosser

Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba

Devan Dubnyk

Darcy Kuemper

Injured: Zach Parise (back), Thomas Vanek (upper body)

Scratched: Ryan Carter, Christian Folin, Jordan Schroeder, Jarret Stoll

Status report: If Russell doesn't play, Jordie Benn will likely be in. Benn skated in Russell's place in Game 3. ... Parise, who skated on his own before practice on Tuesday, is week-to-week, according to Torchetti.

Who's hot: Sharp scored two goals in Game 3 and has nine goals and 17 points in 18 career playoff games against the Wild. ... Pominville had two goals and an assist in Minnesota's Game 3 win.

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