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Bishop to start Game 1 as Stars 'can't wait to get going'

Montgomery describes opening Dallas' first postseason since 2016 as being 'like you are 6 years old and it's Christmas Day'

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Here we go.

The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators open their first-round playoff series tonight at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville (8:30 p.m. CT; FS-SW, USA Network; KTCK 1310-AM, 96.7-FM). The Central Division rivals are meeting for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"The best way to describe it is it's like you are 6 years old and it's Christmas Day. You are excited, and you can't wait to get going," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery. "You can tell the way the guys are skating in the morning skate. I didn't have to get on them about executing."

The Stars (43-32-7-93 points) finished the regular season as the first wild-card team in the Western Conference, and Nashville (47-29-6-100 points) finished first in the Central Division.

"We're excited to get going after two days of practice," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "Nashville obviously has a great team and play well in this building in front of their fans, so it's going to be important to get off to a good start."

There are no surprises as far as the Dallas lineup for tonight's series opener.

Video: Following two-year absence, Stars' journey begins

Ben Bishop will get the start in goal tonight. Bishop is coming off a great regular season and had a spectacular run after the All-Star break, posting an 11-3-0 record with a 1.16 goals-against average, .962 save percentage and five shutouts. He has 36 games of NHL playoff experience including a run to the Stanley Cup Final with Tampa Bay in 2015.

"I think it helps," Bishop said. "You know what to expect. At the same time, there will still be some nerves. That's par for the course. You get nervous for the first game of the season, and the first game of the playoffs and I don't think that will change.

"The important thing I've done my whole career is I prepare the same way for a preseason game, a regular season game, and a playoff game. I don't change."

As for the forwards and defense, Montgomery is rolling with the same lineup he used in the team's practices on Monday and Tuesday.

Tyler Seguin will center Jason Dickinson and Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn will skate with Roope Hintz and Mats Zuccarello. Radek Faksa will center the third line with Andrew Cogliano and Blake Comeau and Justin Dowling will center the fourth line with Mattias Janmark and Tyler Pitlick.

The scratches at forward will be Jason Spezza, Brett Ritchie, and Valeri Nichushkin.

Video: Previewing the Stars vs. Predators First Round series

The defense pairs for tonight are Esa Lindell-John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen-Roman Polak; Taylor Fedun-Ben Lovejoy. Defense scratches are Jamie Oleksiak and Julius Honka.

Zuccarello returns to the Dallas lineup after playing in just two games since being acquired from the New York Rangers on Feb. 23. He broke his arm in his Dallas debut on Feb. 24 in Chicago and missed five weeks. He returned April 2 when the Stars clinched a playoff spot with a 6-2 win over Philadelphia and left the game early as a precaution and then sat out the last two games of the regular season.

"I am feeling not bad. I am not thinking about it right now," Zuccarello said Tuesday. "All I'm thinking is we've got to go in and play a hell of a game and have fun the first game and try to steal one away from home."

Zuccarello has lined up with Benn and Hintz in both games he has played with Dallas.

"Two really good players. Roope's young, a lot of speed," Zuccarello said. "Jamie's a superstar, like one of the best in the league. It's exciting for me. Hopefully, I can just create some energy, be good on the forecheck and help them out. I am just excited to get going."

The Predators have the edge in playoff experience; this is their fifth straight appearance in the postseason. The Stars are making their first appearance since 2016 and six of the Dallas players in the lineup tonight will be making their NHL playoff debuts.

Video: Montgomery on Game 1 "It's like Christmas Day"

Montgomery expects Nashville to try to take advantage of that early tonight, especially with home-ice advantage.

"They're going to be on top of their toes and to drive home, I think, our inexperience and maybe put us on our heels," Montgomery said. "Our mentality has to be we need to be on our toes, and we want to push."

And the Stars will rely on veterans with extensive playoff experience, like Lovejoy, Cogliano, and Bishop, to provide guidance.

"We had a dinner last night with coaches, management, and players and afterward Monty asked a few of us to speak," Lovejoy said. "We talked about some of the challenges that come with playoff hockey. Growing up you always hear about how it's faster, it's harder, more intense and it is, but it is still the same game everybody in here grew up playing.

"The mentality definitely changes a little bit. There's a mentality that if you win a game, you feel like you are going to win the Stanley Cup and if you lose a game, you feel like it is over. A couple of the veteran guys discussed the mentality that as a group we need to have in here, and I think we will continue to discuss it a little. We find out very quickly tonight.

"Everybody will be experienced after tonight. I really like the team in this room."


Predators watch

The Predators are expected to roll with the same lineup they used in the final three games of the season, all wins. That involves Pekka Rinne getting the start in goal and Dante Fabbro, who was signed to an entry-level deal out of Boston University in late March, skating on the third defense pair with ex-Star Dan Hamhuis.

The Predators won the Central Division by winning their last three games and posting an 8-2-1 mark over their last eleven games and are looking to ride that momentum into the first-round matchup with the Stars.

"Overall, our game is peaking at the right time here," Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm told reporters in Nashville on Tuesday. "It's exciting, and I feel really good about our team and our chances, so it's going to be a fun test (in Game 1), and we'll go from there."

Video: Stars, Predators' core players key to series success

The Predators also hope to lean on the playoff experience they've gained by making the postseason five straight seasons and winning five series, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017.

"That's something you learn from and playing some of the big games," Ekholm said. "You can't get too let down by the losses and too high on the wins. You've got to stay even. Games are not going to go your way; games are going to go your way. Stuff is going to happen through the game and the whole playoffs."

Nashville recalled goaltender Niclas Westerholm from the top league in Finland Wednesday to serve as the team's third goaltender.


Tonight's game

Who: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators
Series: Western Conference Round 1, Game 1
Where: Bridgestone Arena
When: 8:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
National TV: USA Network
Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM/96.7-FM


Stars projected lineup

Jason Dickinson - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Roope Hintz - Mats Zuccarello
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark - Justin Dowling - Tyler Pitlick

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy

Ben Bishop
Anton Khudobin

Scratched: Valeri Nichushkin, Jason Spezza, Brett Ritchie, Jamie Oleksiak, Julius Honka, Landon Bow
Injured: None
Injured Reserve: Martin Hanzal (back), Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches), Marc Methot (knee surgery)


Predators projected lineup

Filip Forsberg - Ryan Johansen - Victor Arvidsson
Mikael Granlund - Kyle Turris - Craig Smith
Colton Sissons - Nick Bonino - Austin Watson
Brian Boyle - Calle Jarnkrok - Wayne Simmonds

Roman Josi - Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm - P.K. Subban
Dan Hamhuis - Dante Fabbro

Pekka Rinne
Juuse Saros

Scratched: Cody McLeod, Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber, Frederick Gaudreau, Rocco Grimaldi, Rem Pitlick, Miikka Salomaki, Zac Rinaldo, Niclas Westerholm
Injured: None

Photo: Sean Berry /

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 since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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