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Game Day: Preds vs. Stars

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

(18-12-7) Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars (27-8-3)
  7:30 P.M. (CT) | American Airlines Center | #NSHvsDAL
TV: FS-TN | Radio: 102.5 The Game | Pregame: 7 P.M.


The Nashville Predators will close out the 2015 calendar year tonight with a New Year's Eve tilt in the Lonestar State against the NHL-leading Dallas Stars. Thursday evening’s matchup is the first of five meetings scheduled between the two Central Division foes this season, three of which will occur in Texas.

Nashville is coming off of a 4-3 overtime loss on Tuesday to the St. Louis Blues, a game that saw the Preds scored two goals in the final four minutes of regulation to force overtime and gain a crucial point.

Dallas, who has a NHL-best 57 points, fell 6-3 on Tuesday in Columbus to a Blue Jackets team that has almost as many losses as the Stars have wins.

Tonight's contest will be the fourth time in franchise history that the Predators will play on New Year's Eve. The team previously skated on Dec. 31 at Minnesota in 2010 (4-1 W), at Columbus in 2009 (2-1 W (OT)) and at Dallas in 2007 (1-0 W), posting a 3-0-0 record.

At 199 career goals, Preds forward James Neal is one tally away from reaching 200. When he does so, he will become the third member of the 2005 Draft class to reach 200 and the first from the second round or later. Neal was Dallas’ second-round pick (33rd overall) in the 2005 NHL Draft. He has split time between the Stars (72 goals), Pittsburgh Penguins (89 goals) and Predators (36 goals).

This evening's goaltending matchup is likely to feature a couple of Finns, with three of the Top Four winningest Finnish-born goaltenders in NHL history expected to be in the lineup. Pekka Rinne, who hails from Kempele, Finland, ranks third all-time with 219 victories. He is sandwiched between Dallas' Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi for most wins.

It's also likely that some scoring will come from the blue line tonight, as both the Preds and the Stars possess the League's highest-scoring defensive units. Roman Josi leads Nashville with 29 points (9g-20a), while Shea Weber leads the d-corps with 11 goals. Preds defensemen are first in goals in the NHL with 29. No other team (besides Nashville) has defensemen with more than 22 goals (Carolina). The Predators defense has 96 points (30g-66a) as a whole, first in the NHL, while the Dallas blue line comes in second at 93 points (18g-75a).

Weber is slated to appear in his 723rd career NHL games tonight, which would tie him with Martin Erat for second on the franchise’s all-time games played list. Weber has skated in 722 career NHL games, all as a member of the Nashville Predators. He was Nashville's fourth choice, 49th overall (second round), in the 2003 NHL Draft. Weber ranks third all-time in franchise history in goals (157), assists (261) and points (418).

Behind Josi's team-leading 29 points ranks Weber with 26. Filip Forsberg (25) is one point ahead of Neal and Mike Ribeiro, who each have 24. Neal's 15 goals are tops on the Preds while Ribeiro's 20 helpers are tied with Josi for the team lead. Rinne is 15-10-6 on the season with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.

Forsberg has a point in four of his five career games versus Dallas (3g-2a) and Josi has a point in three of his last four games vs. the Stars (1g-3a). He recorded a career-high four points (2g-2a) on Feb. 25, 2013 vs. Dallas.

Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who lead the Stars in points with 50 and 48, respectively, are also second and third in the League in overall scoring. Benn's 23 goals lead the NHL, Seguin's 21 put him fourth in the category. Patrick Sharp, acquired from Chicago, has found the back of the net 14 times; Jason Spezza has 13 tallies this season. Niemi, who has started 21 games for the Stars, is 15-6-3 on the campaign.

During the 2014-15 season, Nashville had points in four of five games against their Central Division rival, posting a 3-1-1 record. Rinne was undefeated in regulation in all four of his games against the Stars, posting a 3-0-1 record. All-time, Nashville has a 28-33-4 record against the Stars, including a 9-21-2 record in Dallas.


Projected Lineups:

Nashville Predators:

Forwards
Filip Forsberg Mike Ribeiro Craig Smith
Colin Wilson Mike Fisher Viktor Arvidsson
Miikka Salomaki Calle Jarnkrok James Neal
Eric Nystrom Paul Gaustad Austin Watson
Defense
Roman Josi Shea Weber
Barret Jackman Seth Jones
Mattias Ekholm Ryan Ellis

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Goaltenders: Pekka Rinne is the expected starter in net with Carter Hutton serving as the backup.

Extra: (D) Anthony Bitetto, (F) Gabriel Bourque (IR; upper-body), (F) Cody Hodgson, (D) Petter Granberg


Dallas Stars*:

Forwards
Jamie Benn Tyler Seguin Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark Jason Spezza Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel Cody Eakin Colton Sceviour
Travis Moen Vernon Fiddler Patrick Eaves
Defense
Alex Goligoski John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya Jason Demers
Jyrki Jokipakka Jordie Benn

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Goaltenders: Antti Niemi is the expected starter in net with Kari Lehtonen serving as the backup.

Extra: (F) Radek Faksa, (D) Patrik Nemeth, (D) Jamie Oleksiak, (F) Ales Hemsky

*Stars lines provided by Mark Stepneski

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