The Dallas Stars will be getting some of their injured players back tonight when they take on the Nashville Predators with a Central Division title and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference on the line.
Center Jason Spezza, right wing Patrick Eaves and defenseman Jason Demers are all expected to return for tonight’s game at American Airlines Center. Demers has missed the past 13 games with a shoulder injury and is back a week-and-a-half earlier than expected.
“It’s exciting. I’ve never been out this long,” Demers said. “I feel good, and I am ready to go. I have been chomping at the bit. My goal was to get in one game before the playoffs. I get to do it tonight, so it will be good.”
The Stars held an optional skate this morning, so we’ll have to wait until tonight to get a read on the defense pairs.
Spezza missed the last game due to illness. Eaves was out the last game due to a mid-body injury. With the Stars up to 12 healthy forwards, left wing Curtis McKenzie, who was on an emergency recall, was sent back to the Texas Stars of the AHL.
Antti Niemi was the first goaltender off the ice at this morning’s optional skate, so he will get the start in goal tonight. Niemi and Kari Lehtonen have been alternating starts the past two weeks. Both have been playing well. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said he is still undecided which goaltender will start in game one of the playoffs.
“For me it is [still up in the air],” Ruff said. “I don’t think there’s any wrong answer right now, and I’ve got to give both these guys credit for what they’ve done down the stretch here. Either one is a good pick right now.”
Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak skated late this morning and are expected to be the healthy scratches on defense. Tyler Seguin (Achilles), Mattias Janmark (upper body) and Brett Ritchie (lower body) remain out. There was some positive news on Seguin and Janmark.
Seguin, who has missed the past nine games, has been skating on his own recently and should be ready to take a step forward next week.
“He’s actually doing really well,” Ruff said. “He will probably be involved in practice on Monday, and I think that’s important to get a read where he’s at. But he’s skating real well and has progressed nicely. It’s a real good opportunity for him to be in practice when we start up.”
Janmark has missed the past two games. He took part in this morning’s optional skate and is expected to be ready by the playoff opener.
“He won’t play tonight, but he’ll be ready by Thursday to get going,” Ruff said.
The Stars can win the Central Division and top spot in the West with a victory over the Predators. Nashville will rest several key players tonight, but the Stars still expect a tough game.
“We know we’re going to have to play real well,” Ruff said. “They’re going to have some younger players; some players are going to get an opportunity. I think sometimes that’s a tougher lineup to play than sometimes when you’ve got veteran players that know they’re not playing for anything, so the history of a game like this is this could be even harder.”
The Predators are locked into the first wild-card spot in the West, so they will rest several key players tonight. Defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi, forwards Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro and goaltender Pekka Rinne all will get tonight off.
“We’ve got guys that are banged up, an opportunity for them to heal up a little bit,” Laviolette said. “We got a lot of confidence and faith in the guys that are in the room. A guy gets called up from the minors in (Corey) Potter and gets an opportunity to play, so that’s a good thing. But again, our expectation is to be successful.”
The Predators have won two straight coming into tonight’s game. They will play the winner of the Pacific Division – either Los Angeles or Anaheim – in the first round of the playoffs.
Who: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest Plus
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Patrick Sharp
Valeri Nichushkin – Jason Spezza – Colton Sceviour
Antoine Roussel – Radek Faksa – Ales Hemsky
Travis Moen – Vernon Fiddler – Patrick Eaves
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Stephen Johns
Kris Russell – Jason Demers
Injured: Mattias Janmark (upper body), Tyler Seguin (Achilles), Brett Ritchie (lower body)
Scratched: Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak
Calle Jarnkrok – Ryan Johansen – James Neal
Filip Forsberg – Colton Sissons – Craig Smith
Colin Wilson – Austin Bass – Viktor Arvidsson
Eric Nystrom – Paul Gaustad – Austin Watson
Mattias Ekholm – Petter Granberg
Barret Jackman – Ryan Ellis
Anthony Bitetto – Corey Potter
Injured: Gabriel Bourque (upper body), Miikka Salomaki (undisclosed)
Scratched: Mike Fisher, Roman Josi, Mike Ribeiro, Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber
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.