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Thomas to make first start for Stars vs. Blue Jackets

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- When the Dallas Stars host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday at American Airlines Center, the Stars not only will look to extend their current winning streak to three games, but also attempt to sweep a three-game homestand.

Dallas is six days removed from a 4-2 loss to Columbus at Nationwide Arena, a game where the Stars didn't start well and found themselves losing 3-0 after one period. Avoiding a repeat of those opening 20 minutes is imperative for Dallas coach Lindy Ruff.

"I thought we were kind of half-in in the game," Ruff said. "We really didn't engage. I thought when we engaged we played pretty well. Fought hard to get back in the game but didn't quite get it done. I thought last couple games here at home we've done a real good of job coming out and playing hard early. Like to build off of that."

The Stars lost starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen to a concussion early in the third period of a 4-3 win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday after Wild center Erik Haula went hard into him. Lehtonen is listed as day-to-day.

"I'm not going to go into detail [about his symptoms]," Ruff said. "Just leave it at that and when he starts feeling well he'll start exercising again."

Tim Thomas, acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers prior to the NHL Trade Deadline last Wednesday, came on in relief of Lehtonen on Saturday to win in his Stars debut.

Thomas will make his first start in the crease for Dallas on Monday.

"He's a battler. He's played in pressure situations. He understands what it takes," Ruff said of Thomas. "He's won a couple of Vezinas. He's won a Stanley Cup. I think that bodes well for putting a guy in the net."

Dallas recalled Cristopher Nilstorp from Texas of the American Hockey League on Sunday to serve as Thomas' backup during Lehtonen's injury. Nilstorp was 21-12-4 with two shutouts, a 2.58 goals-against-average and a .915 save percentage in 39 games with Texas this season.

Ruff is leaving his forward lines and defensive pairs identical from the win against the Wild.

Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards is making several changes to his lineup, with defenseman Nikita Nikitin returning to the ice after missing a 1-0 win against the Nashville Predators on Saturday. Nikitin had to leave a 6-1 loss at the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday in the second period after sustaining a hard hit from Chicago center Andrew Shaw.

Richards also is going with Curtis McElhinney in net against Dallas, which will be his first start since Jan. 28. Columbus is on a back-to-back and will host the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, so Richards wanted top goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky fresh for that game.

Like it was when these teams played six days ago, Richards knows the start will be crucial, as will the Blue Jackets' play between the blue lines. However, he's also aware of how potent the Dallas top line of left wing Jamie Benn, center Tyler Seguin and right wing Rich Peverley can be if they are firing on all cylinders.

"I think they [Benn and Seguin] feed off of each other's game and that's what makes them a little bit more dangerous, is they both have speed, skill," Richards said. "We're going to have to do a good job against that line because you can tell that they're playing with a lot of confidence right now."

Here are the projected lineups:


Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Nathan Horton

Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - Boone Jenner

RJ Umberger - Artem Anisimov - Corey Tropp

Derek MacKenzie - Blake Comeau - Mark Letestu

Jack Johnson - David Savard

Nikita Nikitin - James Wisniewski

Nick Schultz - Dalton Prout

Curtis McElhinney

Sergei Bobrovsky

Scratched: Cam Atkinson, Matt Frattin, Cody Goloubef, Frédéric St-Denis

Injured: Jared Boll (ankle), Ryan Murray (knee), Fedor Tyutin (ankle)


Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Rich Peverley

Erik Cole - Cody Eakin - Alex Chiasson

Antoine Roussel - Vernon Fiddler - Ryan Garbutt

Ray Whitney - Shawn Horcoff - Valeri Nichushkin

Alex Goligoski - Trevor Daley

Jordie Benn - Brenden Dillon

Kevin Connauton - Sergei Gonchar

Tim Thomas

Cristopher Nilstorp

Scratched: Aaron Rome

Injured: Kari Lehtonen (concussion)

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