After missing the last three games with an upper body injury, Erik Cole is expected to return to the lineup when the Dallas Stars take on the Colorado Avalanche tonight at American Airlines Center.
Cole was in a familiar spot Tuesday morning, skating on the left wing on a line with center Jason Spezza and right wing Ales Hemsky. That’s where Cole was prior to going out with the injury, and that line was an effective one for the Stars.
“I think that line was going well. [Cole] was really going well,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “I think he was a big reason why that line was having success – his north/south speed, his physicality. So I’m hoping that he can step right in playing the way he was before he went out.”
With Cole coming back into the lineup, it appears Travis Moen will be a healthy scratch tonight. Moen skated late this morning and is expected to be a healthy scratch.
Jyrki Jokipakka, who was called up from the Texas Stars of the AHL on Monday, is expected to be in the lineup tonight. He skated with Trevor Daley at this morning’s skate.
“Jyrki’s been playing some big minutes (in the AHL) and playing well from what I understand,” Ruff said. “We’ll give him another shot to see if he can be a guy that can help us with some size and physicality.”
With Jokipakka in tonight, David Schlemko appears to be the scratch on defense.
Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice for the Stars, so it appears he will get the start in goal tonight against the Avalanche.
Tonight’s game is a key one in the playoff race. The Stars and Avalanche are tied at 53 points, and both are four points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“It’s the best time of the year when you have a race to the playoffs,” said Stars defenseman John Klingberg. “This is a big game for us like almost every game that’s coming up. It’s a big day and hopefully we get two points tonight.”
Ruff said all games are big right now, and that they have been for some time.
“I’m afraid that started like six, seven weeks ago for us. Pretty sure it started for [Colorado] too. When you get that far behind that it’s desperation,” Ruff said. “Winnipeg was a big game. We knew that if we want to keep them in the fold, especially with the games in hand and them losing last night, but it was a big win. You lose that game and at that point the differential probably was too much to make up. And now it invites another team in the pack. We want to keep crawling up and these games against each other are games where you can separate and make up ground.”
Notes: Lindback to AHL for conditioning
*Jussi Rynnas will back up Stars starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen tonight. Rynnas was recalled from the Texas Stars of the AHL after Dallas sent Anders Lindback to Texas on a conditioning assignment. Lindback hasn’t played since Jan. 15.
“Well, the plan is to get Lindback some playing time and then get him back,” Ruff said. “Going to play a couple games, a little bit of conditioning, hasn’t played in a while and have him ready for the weekend when we have back-to-back games.”
*Defenseman Patrik Nemeth, who has been out since Oct. 18 with an arm laceration, skated with the team this morning wearing a red no-contact jersey. Nemeth still has a way to go before he is ready to return to the lineup.
Semyon Varlamov will get the start in goal tonight for the Avalanche. Varlamov is 13-10-7 with a 2.62 goals against average and .922 save percentage.
Colorado coach Patrick Roy was asked about the importance of tonight’s game. He said they are all big, so he’s not putting extra emphasis any one game at this point.
“I don’t try to make a big deal of the game because the next one will be as important and then the next one will be as important. They’re all important games for our team when you’re chasing a playoff spot,” Roy said. “I think the best way to do that is unfortunately and it sounds very cliché, but it’s one day at a time, be even keel and be ready for those games. I like the way we played last game and I just want to see us play the same way tonight, and I think this is how we’re going to get closer in that playoff race and God knows what’s going to happen in the end.”
Who: Colorado Avalanche 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 Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Eaves
Erik Cole – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Jyrki Jokipakka – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Jason Demers
Scratched: Travis Moen, David Schlemko
Injured: Patrik Nemeth (arm), Valeri Nichushkin (hip)
Avalanche projected lineup
Gabriel Landeskog – Ryan O’Reilly – Nathan MacKinnon
Alex Tanguay – Matt Duchene – Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod – John Mitchell – Dennis Everberg
Maxime Talbot – Marc-Andre Cliché – Daniel Briere
Jan Hejda – Zach Redmond
Nate Guenin – Tyson Barrie
Brad Stuart – Nick Holden
Scratched: Stefan Elliott.
Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (knee), Erik Johnson (knee), Jamie McGinn (back), Borna Rendulic (leg), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion).