Stars to rest some key players in preparation for playoffs
Benn, Bishop, Polak and Zuccarello won't travel to Chicago as Dallas ends the regular season with two straight gamesby Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge
The Dallas Stars will rest some key players this weekend as they play back-to-back games against the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild to close out the regular season and gear up for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which get underway next week.
Goaltender Ben Bishop, forwards Jamie Benn and Mats Zuccarello, and defensemen Roman Polak all will not make the trip to Chicago for Friday night's game against the Blackhawks (7:30 p.m. CT; FS-SW+; KTCK) .
On Bishop, who has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury, Stars coach Jim Montgomery said the Stars are confident he'll be ready for the playoffs. Bishop went through a full practice Thursday at Comerica Center in Frisco and then stayed out on the ice late for more work.
"We're hoping that Bish will be ready to play Saturday (against Minnesota at American Airlines Center)," Montgomery said. "He feels really good, and as long as he's feeling good that he is going to be prepared for the playoffs, that's good by me.
"As long as he's getting the practice time he needs, he feels he's sharp."
So, Anton Khudobin will get the Stars in goal Friday against Chicago.
Zuccarello returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing five weeks due to a broken arm. He left the game midway through the third period as a precaution and did not return. Zuccarello did not practice Thursday. He won't play Friday and Saturday is up in the air.
Video: Jim Montgomery on his first season as a head coach
"Just maintenance," Montgomery said. "He felt great, and he felt his timing was really good. He doesn't know if he even needs to play Saturday to be ready for playoffs. There's no concern injury-wise or health-wise. He'll be fine for playoffs."
It's also just maintenance for both Benn and Polak, who did go through a full practice on Thursday.
"I don't want either one of them playing back-to-back games," Montgomery said. "Some guys really benefit from not playing back-to-back games. Jamie Benn, when he is rested is an unbelievable hockey player. Just like anyone, when you get more tired, you don't have the same jump."
Andrew Cogliano, who left Tuesday's game with a lower-body issue, practiced Thursday and is fine. Justin Dowling (upper body) and Brett Ritchie (hand) practiced as well.
Montgomery said Cogliano, Dowling, and Ritchie all are options to play Friday in Chicago.
Center Tyler Seguin and defensemen Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen are expected to play both games this weekend since all three players would then have played in all 82 games this season. Montgomery said all three want to accomplish the feat.
"I think that is a tremendous feather in their cap to be able to say you withstood the rigors of an NHL season and have helped us in all 82 games," Montgomery said. "And the three players we are talking about are key cogs in our team."
Video: PHI@DAL: Lindell goes between the legs on deflection
Stars look to get game in order, eye on Jennings Trophy
While Montgomery is resting key players this weekend and looking at others as he contemplates what lineup he could roll out to start the playoffs, he has some other business that is top of mind.
"Most important for us, it's going into the playoffs playing the right way," Montgomery said. "We are really working on little adjustments against Chicago that we might have to make in the playoffs to how we might have to play with our defensive structure."
Montgomery also has his eye on the Jennings Trophy, which goes to the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it.
With two games remaining, the New York Islanders (Robin Lehner/Thomas Greiss) lead the race with 195 goals against and the Stars (Ben Bishop/Anton Khudobin) are right behind at 196.
"It's also important for us that we give ourselves a chance to win the Jennings Trophy," Montgomery said. "That's the best team award you can accomplish in the NHL, being the best defensive team. It's something we can do together and these last two games it is important we try to attain that goal."
While the award is presented to goaltenders, Montgomery sees it as a team award.
"They've been great for us," Montgomery said of Bishop and Khudobin. "I mean both have played over 40 games; both have been really important. But to me it's a team award when you win goals against, it's not a goalie award. It's a team award."
Video: DAL@VAN: Khudobin gloves down Gaudette's one-timer
Thursday's practice lineup
Here's how the Stars lined up in Thursday's practice in Frisco.
Jason Dickinson - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Justin Dowling - Roope Hintz - Tyler Pitlick
Mattias Janmark - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Valeri Nichushkin - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie
Jamie Benn - Joel L'Esperance - Andrew Cogliano
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Ben Lovejoy
Taylor Fedun - Roman Polak
Jamie Oleksiak - Julius Honka
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for DallasStars.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.