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Morning Skate: Lehtonen in goal; Russell a game-time decision vs. Chicago

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Kari Lehtonen will get the start in goal tonight as the Dallas Stars take on the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. Lehtonen has grabbed the Dallas net recently and has been on a good run, posting a 5-1-1 mark in his past seven starts.

“Kari has been very good. He’s settled in and has his game going in the right direction,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “He’s been a big part of us turning it around and being pretty consistent here.”

Defensemen Alex Goligoski and Kris Russell, who missed Monday’s practice for maintenance, both took part in the Stars’ optional skate Tuesday morning. Russell is a question mark and will be a game-time decision.

“It looks like Goligoski is good to go. We’ll wait on Russell. He’ll skate in warm-ups and see how he is doing. We want to make sure we are doing the right thing,” Ruff said.

If Russell can’t go, Jordie Benn would likely step into the lineup. Benn is ready to return after missing eight games with a lower-body injury.

No changes are expected among the forwards. The Stars will go with the same group of 12 that played in Saturday night’s 3-0 win over the New York Islanders.

Travis Moen and Jamie Oleksiak are expected to be healthy scratches. Mattias Janmark remains out with an upper-body injury but could return during the trip.

The Stars have a chance to clinch a playoff spot tonight in a few ways, including with a win over the Blackhawks. Here are the scenarios from NHL public relations: “The Stars will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Blackhawks in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Blackhawks AND the Wild lose to the Kings in any fashion OR if the Wild lose to the Kings in regulation.”

It’s an important game in the Central Division race as well. The first-place Stars are four points ahead of the third-place Blackhawks with nine games remaining. The Stars have a chance to extend their lead over Chicago to six points with a regulation win. The Blackhawks, of course, have a chance to pull within two points with a regulation win.

“We’re going to see their best game. I know the situation they are in, and I know what they are thinking,” said Ruff. “In the same sense, it is a big game for us. We’ve had a lot of big games; we’ve had a lot of big challenges, and we’ve been able to meet most of those challenges. I think the table has been set for a heck of a hockey game.”

The Stars have won three of four meetings this season against the Blackhawks, who come into tonight’s game with five losses in their past six games (1-3-2).

“You can never really count the Hawks out,” said Stars forward Patrick Sharp. “Despite the score, despite what has happened in previous games, they are a tough team to beat.”

Scott Darling will get the start in goal tonight for the Blackhawks as Corey Crawford remains day to day with an upper-body injury. Darling is 7-6-0 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. Since putting together a 12-game winning streak from Dec. 29-Jan. 19, the Blackhawks are 10-11-3 in their past 24 games.

Who: Dallas Stars at Chicago Blackhawks

Where: United Center

When: 7:30 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM

Jamie BennCody EakinPatrick Sharp

Valeri NichushkinJason SpezzaPatrick Eaves

Antoine RousselRadek FaksaAles Hemsky

Colton SceviourVernon FiddlerBrett Ritchie

Kris Russell
Alex Goligoski

Johnny OduyaStephen Johns

Patrik NemethJohn Klingberg

Kari Lehtonen

Antti Niemi

Mattias Janmark (upper body), Tyler Seguin (Achilles), Jason Demers (shoulder)

Scratched: Jordie Benn, Travis Moen, Jamie Oleksiak

Andrew Ladd – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa

Artemi Panarin – Artem Anisimov – Patrick Kane

Dale Weise – Teuvo Teravainen – Tomas Fleischmann

Andrew Desjardins – Andrew Shaw – Richard Panik

Duncan Keith – Niklas Hjalmarsson

Erik Gustafsson – Brent Seabrook

Trevor Van Riemsdyk – Michal Rozsival

Scott Darling

Michael Leighton

Injured: Marcus Kruger (wrist), Corey Crawford (upper body)

Scratched: Christian Ehrhoff, Dennis Rasmussen, Brandon Mashinter

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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