Return of 'Big Ben'
A bit of a surprise that Ben Bishop was announced this morning as the starter against the Ottawa Senators.
Bishop hurt his left knee a week ago Monday against Ottawa at American Airlines Center when Dan Hamhuis fell on the netminder's left leg. Kari Lehtonen came on in the second period of that game and made five straight starts while Bishop worked to get back into game shape.
After a rigorous workout Thursday and with no residual pain this morning, Bishop was given the green light to start.
"They worked him really hard yesterday and he came through fine," head coach Ken Hitchcock said at Canadian Tire Centre Friday. "We just wanted to reassure it by making sure he wasn't sore this morning. But they spent an hour on the ice with him yesterday in every situation and he was fine. And then, obviously, felt good today, too, so that's a good sign."
Bishop did not speak to reporters after morning skate.
The Dallas starter is 2-0-1 in his last three starts. He did not allow a goal against Ottawa on 12 shots he faced before giving way to Lehtonen.
Video: Hoffman chats with Burnside about facing the Stars
Never say 'must win' (but you can whisper it)
The Stars are 0-2-1 on this six-game road trip, which continues with their second and final game of the season against Ottawa, a team that upended them in Dallas on March 5 in overtime.
The road trip finishes with Central Division nemesis Winnipeg on Sunday and Metropolitan Division-leading Washington on Tuesday. So, do the math on a couple of fronts.
As of Friday morning, the Stars continue to hold down a playoff spot, although Colorado has jumped over Dallas, thanks to their win Thursday over St. Louis, pushing the Stars into the second wild-card spot. The Stars are a point ahead of ninth-place Anaheim, and both have 11 games remaining heading into action tonight.
The Stars banked a loser's point in a 6-5 shootout loss in Toronto on Wednesday, but having lost to lowly Montreal on this trip and having already given away a loser's point to Ottawa at home, it behooves the Stars to take care of business in Ottawa tonight given the challenge Winnipeg and Washington represent.
Did we say "must win?"
"I just think that you look at it like I told the players, we would have died to have this in September and we got it," Hitchcock said. "And we're sitting in front of it, and we knew months ago what our schedule was, and we knew this was going to be a very difficult road trip with a ton of travel and a lot of good opponents. And we knew we were either going to have to bank points -- and we've done that -- and we knew it was going to be a fight to the end.
"I told the players, we've just got to stay in the race until we get home. And then, we've got a great schedule when we get home -- four out of five at home -- and we've got to look like we're still in it and not chasing it through five or six teams. And we're right there right now."
The mindset? 'Every game matters'
If you are a positive sort then you look back to Wednesday's wacky, topsy-turvy, emotional rollercoaster of a game and you tick the boxes on the positive side.
The Stars got down 2-0 early and roared back with four unanswered goals. When Toronto tied the game in the third, the Stars jumped back into the lead with a Brett Ritchie goal. They got nice contributions from up and down the lineup, including Ritchie's marker off a nice Tyler Seguin feed in the slot. Devin Shore, Remi Elie, Radek Faksa who has scored in back-to-back games for Dallas, were all factors offensively. Seguin was the best player on the ice for the Stars with a goal and two assists.
Those are all good things. And especially the contributions from up and down the lineup will be key not just tonight, but moving forward through the final 10 games of the regular season if the Stars are going to claim one of the eight playoff positions in the Western Conference.
"For sure, it's not easy, you know, because every game matters -- every point matters," Faksa said. "It's so tight in the standings, so hard to put (opposing teams) behind. But I think, in Toronto, we played a really good game. We can learn from that and bring it to today's game, and I think if we'll play like that in today's game, we can succeed and get two points."
Personally, Faksa would prefer not to obsess over the standings. But sometimes, it's hard.
"If I can talk for myself, I'm trying not to look, but everyone's telling me that, and telling me, like, how close it is," the center said. "So I always look because I'm curious always, but I'm trying not to think about it because just try to play hard every game and not think about it because it just adds stress."
Video: DAL@TOR: Benn bangs home Seguin's nice pass
Getting everything in order
Obviously the question for the Stars is whether they can separate the wheat from the chaff out of the Toronto game because there were some forgettable moments, as well -- like giving up two goals early in the first period and then blowing 4-2 and 5-4 leads in the third period.
The Stars gave up the tying goal with 15.3 seconds left in regulation when they could not clear the puck safely from their own zone and, bone-tired, the Leafs found a way to tip a puck through Lehtonen's legs to send the game to overtime.
In the extra session, the Stars earned a power play, thanks to some hard work by Mattias Janmark driving the net. And the power play did what it needed to do in getting traffic in front of Toronto netminder Curtis McElhinney, who was outstanding in denying all seven Dallas shots in overtime.
But, like the third-period leads, the failure to find a goal was another missed opportunity for the Stars, who had just the one power-play opportunity on the night.
"We've just got to keep pace with everything," Hitchcock said. "I liked a lot of things 5-on-5 we did in Montreal (a 4-2 loss). I liked a lot of things we did in Toronto, and we've just got to keep 5-on-5 and we've got to continue to play with that type of energy."
As noted, Bishop will replace Lehtonen as the starter, and assuming no further setbacks, expect Mike McKenna to return to the American Hockey League.
Brett Ritchie will not play against Ottawa. He did begin the morning skate working with Seguin and Jamie Benn, with whom he played the last couple of games. But Ritchie left midway through and Hitchcock said he won't go. Gemel Smith, who skated in Ritchie's spot over the final part of the morning skate, will be in the lineup, but Hitchcock said he won't play with Seguin and Benn.
Our guess is that either Devin Shore or Remi Elie will move to that spot with Smith playing with Jason Dickinson and Elie or Shore.
Also not in the lineup tonight will be Marc Methot, who continues to recover from a cut in his hand sustained against Montreal while killing a penalty. He's close, but in spite of the fact the Ottawa native (and former Senator) has a large contingent coming into Ottawa to watch the game, he won't be able to suit up.
"His legs work fine, but the hand isn't working right now," Hitchcock said. "I would say we're still hopeful for Winnipeg, but we're not 100 percent right now."
Methot acknowledged he'd circled this game on the calendar and is disappointed not to be on the ice.
"Yeah, I was looking forward to this one," Methot said. "I know I have a lot of people coming in, even from Sudbury with family. Took a nasty cut on my hand and, obviously, it left a bit of a mark the other night in Montreal on the 5-on-3. ...
"That's the way it goes. Can't control it. It's definitely disappointing because I was looking forward to playing here tonight."
Video: Bishop in net against Ottawa
Senators finding second wind
The Senators, like seemingly a lot of teams whose playoff hopes were dashed some weeks ago, have found a second wind down the stretch.
Call it playing the spoiler or young players playing for roster spots next season. Or maybe veterans showcasing talents for current teams or for new suitors come free-agency time, regardless of the dynamics, the Senators simply can't be taken lightly.
The Stars should have learned that lesson in their earlier loss to Ottawa and, of course, in losing to Montreal this week.
The Senators are considerably more dangerous than Montreal, given the Habs' injury issues. The Senators have gone 3-1-1 in their last five and are coming off a 7-4 win over Tampa Bay, one of the top two teams in the NHL.
Ottawa has scored 19 goals over this five-game stretch.
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Remi Elie
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Alexander Radulov
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Devin Shore - Jason Dickinson - Gemel Smith
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Stephen Johns - Julius Honka
Scratched: Dillon Heatherington
Injured: Brett Ritchie (undisclosed), Marc Methot (hand), Martin Hanzal (back)
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Scott Burnside is a senior digital correspondent for DallasStars.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his podcast.