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Morning skate: Lehtonen in goal, McKenzie to play vs. Tampa Bay

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Kari Lehtonen will get his second consecutive start in goal when the Dallas Stars take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena tonight.

Lehtonen is coming off a solid 26-save performance in the Stars’ 4-2 win over Edmonton at American Airlines Center on Tuesday.

The Stars will face a strong challenge in Tampa Bay, the defending Eastern Conference champs, who are off to a 3-1-0 start this season.

“They are a very creative team. They create a lot of opportunities,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “When we played them last year, there were opportunities they could create in small spaces. There is a good reason they ended up where they did at the end of the year.”

There will be one lineup change for the Stars. With Patrick Eaves out due to a lower-body injury, Curtis McKenzie, called up from the AHL yesterday, will suit up for tonight’s game. He’s expected to play left wing on the fourth line with center Vernon Fiddler and Travis Moen at right wing.

Ruff is expected to use the same top three lines he used at the end of Tuesday’s game, which included a first line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp. That trio had an impressive showing in the win over Edmonton.

“I like the way they played. That line was going really good and created a lot of opportunities,” Ruff said. “Tampa’s gap is going to be much tighter, we are not going to get as much ice, and we won’t get as much time to make plays, still they are going to probably have to be our best line.”

Valeri Nichushkin will be the scratch at forward, his second straight game watching from the press box.

“I want to get him back in, I want to get him playing but I think I have to get his head in the right place first,” Ruff said of Nichushkin.

No changes are expected on defense. Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak both will be scratched for a fourth straight game.

Lightning Watch

Ben Bishop is expected to get the start in goal tonight for the Lightning. Center Cedric Paquette, who missed the first four games of the season with a foot injury, is expected to return tonight.

During his pregame chat with reporters, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper shared some thoughts on the Stars.

“They have a lot of skill up front, a lot of speed,” Cooper said. “Jamie Benn is an elite player in this league. Throw in the speed and skill of Tyler Seguin and you keep throwing in Spezza, Sharp, Hemsky. That’s a real dynamic group. Cody Eakin. It just goes on and on and on. You’ve got to ready to defend, you have to be on top of them. And you have to take the puck out of their hands right away because if you let them have it, it is going to be trouble.”

Thursday’s game

Who: Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning

Where: Amalie Arena

When: 6:30 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM

Stars Projected Lineup

Jamie BennTyler SeguinPatrick Sharp

Antoine RousselJason SpezzaAles Hemsky

Mattias JanmarkCody EakinColton Sceviour

Curtis McKenzieVernon FiddlerTravis Moen

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaJason Demers

Jyrki JokipakkaJordie Benn

Kari Lehtonen

Antti Niemi

Valeri Nichushkin, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak

Injured: Patrick Eaves (lower body)

Lightning Projected Lineup

Jonathan Drouin - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Erik Condra

Brian Boyle - Cedric Paquette - J.T. Brown

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Matt Carle - Jason Garrison

Braydon Coburn - Nikita Nesterov

Ben Bishop

Kevin Poulin

Scratched: Andrej Sustr, Vladislav Namestnikov

Injured: G Andrei Vasilevskiy (blood clot)

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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