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Brendan Ranford Could Make NHL Debut Tonight as Stars Take on Sharks

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

It won’t become official until tonight, but there’s a pretty good chance Brendan Ranford will make his NHL debut tonight when the Dallas Stars take on the San Jose Sharks at American Airlines Center.

Ranford likely will play because it appears Ales Hemsky may not be ready to return from a lower body injury. Hemsky took part in line rushes this morning but then skated late, an indication he wouldn’t play tonight.

“He’s close, so we’ll see,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said of Hemsky. “He’s just trying to get a little extra work in and he hasn’t had a lot. But he’s better than yesterday, which is a good sign.”

As for Ranford, he didn’t skate on a line this morning but did come off the ice early, a sign that he will play. It’s been quite a climb for Ranford, a seventh-round draft pick of the Flyers in 2010. He signed a professional tryout contract with Texas in May 2013 and then signed a standard contract with Texas in October 2013. He was key player for them in their run to the Calder Cup last season, registering 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 21 playoff games. That performance helped earn him an NHL contract with Dallas this past summer. Now, he is in the NHL and on the verge of his first game.

“I am very lucky to get this opportunity, and I am just going to try to enjoy it every day,” Ranford said. “I am going to take it day by day and see what happens.”

Ranford had a strong showing in Dallas Stars training camp this past fall. He is second on Texas in scoring this season with 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) in 50 games.

“I got a pretty good idea from training camp and seeing him preseason,” Ruff said. “He’s good with the puck, smart player. I think that he’ll handle the game fine.”

If Ranford is in, he is expected to skate on the fourth line with Shawn Horcoff and Colton Sceviour.

There are no other lineup changes expected for the Stars. Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice, so he is expected to be in goal tonight vs. San Jose. David Schlemko is the expected scratch on defense.

The Stars come into tonight’s game four points behind Los Angeles and San Jose in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Kings and Sharks are tied at 66 points, but Los Angeles holds the final spot based on the points percentage tiebreaker.

“We know there are two big points up for grabs and we are just behind these guys,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “Obviously, it’s an important game. We want to come out here establish a fast pace right away and try to jump on them early.”

Demers, Dillon to face former teams

The Stars and Sharks are meeting for the first time since they swapped defensemen Jason Demers and Brenden Dillon back in late November. Demers spent six seasons in San Jose before heading to Dallas in the deal. He spent some time with his former teammates on Wednesday and will square off against them on the ice for the first time tonight.

“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet but I think it will sink in once the game starts,” Demers said. “I saw the guys yesterday. It was a nice day, dinner with them. It’s going to be surreal; it’s going to be weird. I am comfortable here. Hopefully, I am just going to put it out of my mind. It’s another game, another two points we need. It’s a big game for us.”

Dillon, signed by the Stars as a free agent out of the Western Hockey League, played 149 games for the Stars from 2011-12 until early this season.

“I had to figure out where the away dressing room was first off. Obviously, lots of emotions,” Dillon said. “I am really excited for this game. This was one of the first games I looked for once I did get to San Jose. It’s a great city, great fan base and a great group of guys that I wish the best for. But I am really happy being in San Jose.”

Sharks watch

Antti Niemi will get the start in goal for the Sharks. San Jose is 1-4-1 over its past six games and has allowed 26 goals during that stretch. Cleaning up things in their own end is a priority heading into this game.

“It’s not like we’re cutting it from three to two. We’re looking at cutting it from 4-5 down to two,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “That’s a significant leap when you look at the numbers themselves, but when we look at some of the goals we’ve given up, we put a lot of time and energy and effort into play around our net. But there are other areas that need to be cleaned up. The game the other night against Nashville, like a really poor line change for example and we give up a goal. If you can just clean up that, it gives you a better chance of winning. Goalie-D exchanges, clean that up.

“So it’s our whole game. It’s our whole game, and everybody has to be a little more detail oriented. Sometimes you have to give up a little bit too to be good defensively. You have to give up a few seconds on a shift; you have to give up a little bit of offense. You have to sacrifice being in a lane when you know it’s going to sting a little bit, and we’ve got to get back to that.”

Thursday’s game

Who: San Jose Sharks at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM

Stars projected lineup

Jamie BennJason SpezzaErik Cole
Antoine RousselCody EakinRyan Garbutt
Curtis McKenzieVernon FiddlerBrett Ritchie
Brendan RanfordShawn HorcoffColton Sceviour

Alex GoligoskiJohn Klingberg
Jyrki JokipakkaTrevor Daley
Jordie BennJason Demers

Kari Lehtonen
Jhonas Enroth

Scratched: David Schlemko

Injured: Ales Hemsky (lower body), Tyler Seguin (knee), Patrick Eaves (concussion), Travis Moen (upper body), Patrik Nemeth (arm), Valeri Nichushkin (hip)

Sharks projected lineup

Melker Karlsson – Joe Thornton – Patrick Marleau
Tommy Wingels – Logan Couture – Joe Pavelski
Matthew Nieto – James Sheppard – Tyler Kennedy
Tomas Hertl – Chris Tierney – Andrew Desjardins

Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Justin Braun
Matt Irwin – Scott Hannan

Antti Niemi
Alex Stalock

Scratched: Barclay Goodrow, Mirco Mueller, John Scott

Injured: Mike Brown (right leg), Tye McGinn (upper body), Daniil Tarasov (undisclosed), Raffi Torres (knee)

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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