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Morning Skate: Niemi likely in goal, McKenzie in for Game 3 vs. Blues

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Dallas coach Lindy Ruff kept people guessing about his decision on a starting goaltender this afternoon, but it appears the Stars will turn to Antti Niemi in goal tonight as they take on the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of their second-round playoff series at Scottrade Center.

Niemi was the first goaltender off the ice for the Stars today, an indication that he would get the start tonight.

Ruff immediately threw a curveball in his chat with the media, saying that he was sticking with Kari Lehtonen, who skated late this morning, an indication he would be the backup tonight. Asked about Niemi coming off the ice first, Ruff took a different approach.

“I am not telling you who is starting,” Ruff said, “so you don’t have to ask again.”

But based on past history – both regular season and playoffs – the first goaltender off the ice at the morning skate has been the guy in goal that night, so the money is on Niemi.

Niemi took over for Lehtonen at the start of the second period in Sunday’s Game 2, stopping 19 of 20 shots. The only goal he allowed was David Backes’ power-play goal in overtime that gave the Blues a 4-3 victory that tied the series 1-1.

Niemi, who has two starts in the playoffs, is 1-2 with a 2.73 goals-against average and .892 save percentage. Niemi was 0-1-2 against St. Louis in the regular season with a 3.22 goals-against average and .899 save percentage.

Ruff wouldn’t talk about any lineup changes, but it appears Curtis McKenzie, who was called up from the AHL after the Texas Stars were knocked out of the playoffs, will make his NHL playoff debut tonight.

“I literally found out right before we went out on the ice,” McKenzie said. “I am pretty excited.”


       Dave Strader on the series so far
       Razor's Game 3 Preview

McKenzie, who is likely to play on the fourth line, will bring a physical element to the Dallas lineup against a physical St. Louis team.

“I think that’s one thing that I know, I’m going to have to match their physical side,” McKenzie said. “The strength of this team is its speed. Watching [Sunday] night, when the team’s skating out there I don’t think there’s any team that can compete with them in the league, so that’s what Dallas wants, you got to do that. But by the same time, you have to bring a physical presence if it’s needed.”

With McKenzie in, Valeri Nichushkin is expected to be a healthy scratch at forward along with Brett Ritchie.

The Stars will go with the same six defensemen they’ve played in seven of their eight playoff games. Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are the expected scratches on defense.

The focus at this morning’s skate was special teams, especially the penalty kill. The Stars allowed two power-play goals in Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Blues. The Stars also are 0-7 on the power play in the series.

“I think the biggest difference for me is still special teams. I have to make the difference on special teams. I have to get that fixed,” Ruff said. “We worked a little bit on our penalty killing this morning. You might have thought those were power play units, but we are trying different guys penalty killing. A couple of guys that usually don’t kill, we may use a couple of those.”

Stars coach Lindy Ruff provided updates on forwards Patrick Eaves and Tyler Seguin, who did not travel with the team to St. Louis. They are skating in Frisco.

“The encouraging thing is they are still skating,” Ruff said. “Patty felt a lot better yesterday than he did the day before, which is ahead of where we thought he would be. We’ll get an update after he skates today, which is right around this time. I would anticipate because it is nothing serious, I would anticipate him feeling a lot better today and possibly being an option Game 4, as late as maybe Game 5.

“Tyler, we’ll see. It was his first day getting on the ice and really getting something done. He’s a little different category.”

No lineup changes are expected for the Blues tonight. Goaltender Brian Elliott, who took that shot off the mask in Game 2 Sunday, is fine and will get the start again tonight.

The Blues grabbed home ice advantage by winning one of the first two games in Dallas, and they know the Stars will try to get it back with a win in St. Louis.

“It's been a pretty even series and every road team sets out to win one in the other team's building. As it stands right now, we did that on the road,” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “Tonight's a big game to make sure we're coming out with the right energy and using that home ice advantage and trying to get on top of them like their fans did to us down there. It was a tough environment, and I know it will be a tough environment for them to play in here.

“We just have to establish our game. It's a funny series in that you kind of have two different game plans and strategies and when they work well they look like completely polar opposite teams. We have to be able to get to our game first and keep it there the whole game.”

Who: Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues

Where: Scottrade Center

When: 8:30 p.m.

TV: NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports

Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM

Jamie BennCody EakinPatrick Sharp

Mattias JanmarkJason SpezzaColton Sceviour

Antoine RousselRadek FaksaAles Hemsky

Curtis McKenzieVernon FiddlerTravis Moen

Alex Goligoski
John Klingberg

Johnny OduyaStephen Johns

Kris RussellJason Demers

Kari Lehtonen

Antti Niemi

Patrick Eaves (leg), Tyler Seguin (lower body)

Scratched: Valeri Nichushkin, Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Brett Ritchie, Jack Campbell

Jaden Schwartz – Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko

Alex Steen – Paul Stastny – David Backes

Robby Fabbri – Patrik Berglund – Troy Brouwer

Scottie Upshall – Kyle Brodziak – Ryan Reaves

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, Steve Ott, Magnus Paajarvi, Ty Rattie

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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