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Morning Skate: Lehtonen in goal as Stars open series vs. Blues

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

It doesn’t appear the Dallas Stars will make any lineup changes as they open round two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight at American Airlines Center. They are expected to go with the same players they used in Sunday’s first-round series clinching win against Minnesota.

What has changed is the venue and the opponent. The St. Louis Blues are in town after ousting Chicago in the first round, winning that series in seven games.

The two teams met five times in the regular season. St. Louis won four of the games, but three were decided in three-on-three overtime or the shootout, which won’t be a factor in the playoffs. In regulation play, both teams scored ten goals in the five games.

“I think they know everything about us. Those five games were extremely close,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I think everybody can crunch the math, you can crunch the scoring chances, you can crunch the special teams, the guys who got the points, the guys who were minus and maybe you can take advantage of a few matchups here and there, but I think this time of year it’s tough to find a hole. You don’t get here if you have a hole.

“My message to our team is to go out and play our game. They’re going to play theirs; we’re going to play ours. I’m not going to go over St. Louis for half an hour tonight, what they’re going to do. I’m going to talk about how we’re going to play, and we’re going to move forward.”

The Stars and Blues battled down the stretch for first place in the Central Division and the top seed in the Western Conference, and the Stars won out by two points on the final day of the regular season to get home-ice advantage in the series. The Stars used home ice to grab a 2-0 series lead in the first round against Minnesota.

“[Home ice] is huge,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “Right now after seeing what happened in the first round and then starting at home here, we know this series is going to go pretty deep, to six or seven at least I’m sure, so it’s going to be nice to play in our building.”

Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice for the Stars at this morning’s skate at the AAC, indicating that he will get the start tonight against the Blues. Lehtonen was 3-1 in the first round with a 2.27 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. He was 1-0-1 vs. the Blues in the regular season with a 0.99 GAA and .955 save percentage.

It appears the Stars will go with the same 12 forwards as Game 6 against the Wild. That means Travis Moen should be in the lineup for a second straight game. Ruff said Moen brings a lot to the lineup, including playoff experience. Moen was a key part of Anaheim’s 2007 Stanley Cup team.

“He’s fearless, he’s been through it, he knows how to protect the puck, he knows how to play the situations,” Ruff said. “He’s comfortable in this environment, which is something that a lot of teams look for when they look for experienced and veteran players. And that might be a fourth line or it might be a skill guy that’s got 40 or 50 Stanley Cup games. We’ve got a guy that’s got almost 80 that has been there; he’s done it and still gets up and down the ice real well. So for me, there’s some value putting that guy in the dressing room with a group that outside of [Patrick] Sharp and [Johnny] Oduya, hasn’t been there that much.”

Moen, who sat out the first five games of the Minnesota series as a healthy scratch and played only 23 games during the regular season, said it is tough to beat playoff hockey.

“I love playing in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s a whole other beast. It’s exciting, it’s physical, it’s fast, and if you can’t get up for a playoff game, you probably shouldn’t be playing hockey.”

With Moen apparently staying in the lineup, Valeri Nichushkin would likely sit out for a second straight game.

The Stars are expected to go with the same six defensemen used in five of the six games against Minnesota. Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak skated late this morning and appear to be the healthy scratches.

Forward Tyler Seguin remains out for the Stars with a lower-body injury.

The Blues come into the series healthy. Brian Elliott will get the start in goal. He was 4-3 in the first round with a 2.40 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. He was 1-1-0 vs. the Stars this season with a 1.49 GAA and .946 save percentage.

The Blues won the season series against the Stars, but they are wary of Dallas’ high octane offense.

“The risk with Dallas is you've got to have a balance. They're the No. 1 scoring team in the league now and in the regular season because they make you pay for making big errors,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “They score off the rush, but they scored in the tough areas too, so we've got to have a balance in our game. Sure, do we want to pressure them and make them spend time in their zone? Yes, but we can't do it with taking risks that allow them odd-man rushes. There's a balance that has to come into our game if we expect to win.”

Who: St. Louis Blues at Dallas Stars

Where: American Airlines Center

When: 7 p.m.


Radio: WBAP-820 AM

Jamie BennCody EakinPatrick Sharp

Mattias JanmarkJason SpezzaPatrick Eaves

Antoine RousselRadek FaksaAles Hemsky

Travis MoenVernon FiddlerColton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaStephen Johns

Kris RussellJason Demers

Kari Lehtonen

Antti Niemi

Tyler Seguin (lower body)

Scratched: Valeri Nichushkin, Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak

Jaden Schwartz – Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko

Alex Steen – Patrik Berglund – David Backes

Robby Fabbri – Paul Stastny – Troy Brouwer

Steve Ott – Kyle Brodziak – Scottie Upshall

Jay Bouwmeester – Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson – Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson – Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott

Jake Allen

Injured: None

Scratched: Robert Bortuzzo, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold, Dmitrij Jaskin, Anders Nilsson, Magnus Paajarvi, Ty Rattie, Ryan Reaves

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 reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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