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Morning Skate: Lehtonen in goal, Russell still out vs. Predators

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars kick off a two-game homestand tonight when they take on the Nashville Predators at American Airlines Center.

Kari Lehtonen will get the start in goal. It will be his tenth start in the past 12 games. Lehtonen is 6-2-1 in March with a 2.50 goals-against average.

While it appeared that defenseman Kris Russell would return to the lineup after missing three games with a lower-body injury, Stars coach Lindy Ruff said Russell would not play tonight and would likely sit out Thursday as well.

“I thought yesterday maybe, but after practice it looks like we’re going to keep him out again for a while,” Ruff said. “Probably more than day-to-day, couple days. We’ll see after Thursday, but he won’t play Thursday either. He’s still not in the right place, and we just feel that we have a luxury of making sure that he’s right before we stick him out there. He could play tonight, I can just tell you that. He’s practiced with us three or four times, and he could play, but we just feel the smart thing is to keep him off.”

So, the Stars are expected to go with the same group of defensemen they used in Saturday’s game against San Jose. Jamie Oleksiak skated late this morning, so he is expected to be a healthy scratch for a fifth straight game. Travis Moen skated late as well, so he is the scratch at forward. Brett Ritchie is out with a lower-body injury.

The Stars come into tonight’s game with four wins in their past five games (4-1-0) and a 7-2-2 record in their past 11 games. They’ll take on a Nashville team that has been on a roll since mid-February, posting a 14-3-5 record over their past 22 games.

“They’ve been going good offensively, and they are a good defensive team,” said Ruff. “There’s going to be some good desperation, like the San Jose game (Saturday). I liked the emotion in the game. That type of game prepares you for what lies ahead. I expect this to be a similar game.”

Nashville played last night at home, losing 4-3 to Colorado. It snapped a three-game winning streak for the Predators. It’s not clear who will start in goal for Nashville tonight. Pekka Rinne was pulled 11:40 into last night’s game, so he could get the start again tonight.

The Predators could clinch a playoff spot tonight if they defeat the Stars in any fashion and Colorado loses to St. Louis in regulation. But the Predators said clinching a playoff spot hasn’t been top of mind.

“We’re just worried about the two points,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “That’s all we’ve talked about. We haven’t talked about division or opponents or nothing, just the two points at hand.”

Who: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars

Where: American Airlines Center

When: 7:30 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM

Jamie BennCody EakinPatrick Sharp

Mattias JanmarkJason SpezzaValeri Nichushkin

Antoine RousselRadek FaksaAles Hemsky

Colton SceviourVernon FiddlerPatrick Eaves

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaStephen Johns

Patrik NemethJordie Benn

Kari Lehtonen

Antti Niemi

Kris Russell (lower body), Brett Ritchie (lower body), Tyler Seguin (Achilles), Jason Demers (shoulder)

Scratched: Travis Moen, Jamie Oleksiak

Calle Jarnkrok – Ryan Johansen – James Neal

Filip Forsberg – Mike Ribeiro – Craig Smith

Colin Wilson – Mike Fisher – Viktor Arvidsson

Eric Nystrom – Colton Sissons – Miikka Salomaki

Roman Josi – Shea Weber

Mattias Ekholm – Petter Granberg

Barret Jackman – Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Injured: Anthony Bitetto (lower body), Gabriel Bourque (upper body), Paul Gaustad (upper body)

Scratched: Austin Watson

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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