The Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche square off tonight at American Airlines Center in a key game in the Western Conference playoff race (7:30 p.m. CT; FS-SW+; KTCK).
The Stars, who sit in the first wild-card spot in the West are looking towards taking another step towards nailing down a playoff spot. The Avalanche, who are in 10th place in the West, are six points behind the Stars and two points behind Arizona, which holds the second wild-card position.
"This has to be treated like a playoff game," said Stars center Radek Faksa. "There's a six-point difference between us, and we can make a big step to the playoffs. It will be a good preparation for the playoffs I would say. We'll have for sure playoff intensity."
The Stars will make some lineup changes tonight. Jason Spezza returns to the lineup after being a healthy scratch in Tuesday's 4-2 win over Florida.
"I am just going to try to play well tonight. That's all you can do," Spezza said.
Prior to Tuesday's game, Montgomery said there was nothing specific about Spezza's play, but that the team was deciding to go with some younger legs against Florida.
"I know it's hard for any player anytime they get scratched, especially someone that has had a tremendous career like he has," Montgomery said Thursday. "But everything we base our decisions on is what helps the Dallas Stars win that night."
Video: Stars switching up lines against Avalanche
Montgomery said heading into tonight, the focus isn't on Spezza's play individually but that of his line. Spezza will center the fourth line with Andrew Cogliano and Brett Ritchie on his wings.
"Just having good momentum shifts whether we play seven minutes or 12 minutes," Spezza said, "making sure we are having good, positive shifts for our team."
Montgomery's decision to reunite Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov on a line during Tuesday's win over Florida paid big dividends with those three combining for 10 points. But the big three will be split up tonight against Colorado.
Roope Hintz will play left wing with Seguin and Radulov and Benn will skate with Jason Dickinson and Joel L'Esperance. The third line will have Radek Faksa centering Mattias Janmark and Blake Comeau. Valeri Nichushkin will be the scratch at forward.
Montgomery said he plans to use the Dickinson line against Nathan MacKinnon tonight and the Faksa line against Miko Rantanen.
There will be one change on defense with Taylor Fedun returning to the lineup after missing Tuesday's game due to a death in the family. Tonight's expected defense pairs are Esa Lindell-John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen-Roman Polak, and Fedun-Ben Lovejoy. Jamie Oleksiak and Julius Honka are the scratches on defense.
Ben Bishop gets the start in goal tonight. Bishop has won his last six decisions.
Opposition watch: Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche (32-29-12) are coming off a 3-1 win over Minnesota Tuesday that pulled them to within two points of Arizona for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Philipp Grubauer made 36 saves, and Tyson Barrie, Tyson Jost, and Ian Cole scored for Colorado, which has won consecutive games for the first time since late February.
The Avalanche will dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen for a third straight game. Grubauer will get the start in goal.
This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Stars and Avalanche. The Stars are 1-2-0 in the season series. Colorado won twice in Denver, 3-2 on Nov. 24 and 6-4 on Dec. 15. The Stars won 4-0 in Dallas on March 7.
The Stars are 22-12-3 at home.
The Avalanche are 16-15-6on the road.
Dallas is 14-8-2-30 points since the All-Star break.
Colorado is 10-9-4-24 points since the All-Star break.
The Stars are 12-8-2 vs. the Central Division.
The Avalanche are 9-9-3 vs. the Central Division.
The Stars have allowed two goals or fewer in nine consecutive games, giving up a total of 10 goals during that stretch (1.11 per game).
Dallas ranks second in the league in goals against at 2.45 per game.
Colorado ranks 10th in the league in goal scoring at 3.16 per game.
The Stars rank fifth on the penalty kill at 82.4 percent.
The Avalanche rank eighth on the power play at 22.0 percent.
Who: Colorado Avalanche at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest Plus
Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM/96.7-FM
Stars projected lineup
Roope Hintz - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Jason Dickinson - Joel L'Esperance
Mattias Janmark - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Andrew Cogliano - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy
Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Julius Honka, Valeri Nichushkin
Injured: Mats Zuccarello (broken arm), Tyler Pitlick (wrist surgery), Martin Hanzal (back), Marc Methot (knee surgery), Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches)
Avalanche projected lineup
Derick Brassard - Nathan MacKinnon - J.T. Compher
Colin Wilson - Carl Soderberg - Mikko Rantanen
Alexander Kerfoot - Tyson Jost - Matt Calvert
Sven Andrighetto - Gabriel Bourque
Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov - Patrik Nemeth
Scratched: Andrew Agozzino, A.J. Greer
Injured: Mark Barberio (leg), Vladislav Kamenev (shoulder), Gabriel Landeskog (upper body), Matt Nieto (leg)
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.