It’s Game 95 of the season for the Dallas Stars – including both regular season and playoffs – and whether there will be a game 96 will be decided tonight. The Stars host the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series at American Airlines Center.
“We understand what’s at stake,” said Stars center Jason Spezza. “You want to keep playing, and it’s a big time of year.”
“We’re excited. We knew it was going to go the distance,” said Stars center Vernon Fiddler. “We’ve worked hard for this all year. We wanted to have home ice. There’s no better place to have a Game 7 than here in Dallas. We’re really looking forward to the opportunity.”
Home ice hasn’t mattered much in the series so far. The visiting team has won four of the six games, but the Stars are excited to be playing in front of the home crowd.
“I hope it’s a big difference for Game 7,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I think our guys are excited to be here at home. The one thing we spent a lot of time talking about at the start of camp was to be a better team on home ice. And we accomplished that, and now we’ve got a game on home ice here in front of our fans that we deserve, we worked hard to get, and we want it to be a difference for us.”
The Stars are not expected to make any lineup changes. Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice for the Stars, so he is expected to be in goal tonight. Lehtonen is coming off a superb 35-save performance in the Stars’ 3-2 win in Game 6.
“I feel good about where my game is, and that’s a good feeling,” Lehtonen said Tuesday. “I can just go out there and not worry about something in my game to be wrong or something like that, just go out there and work hard and focus on the game.”
The Stars held an optional skate this morning. Among the healthy players, only Jamie Benn did not skate. No big deal, according to Ruff.
“Everyone went except for him,” Ruff said. “That’s it.”
Tyler Seguin (lower body) and Travis Moen (hand) are out.
Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie skated late, so they will be among the healthy scratches.
Brian Elliott was the first goaltender off the ice for the Blues, so he is expected to get the start in goal tonight. He was pulled in the first period of Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Stars after allowing three goals on seven shots.
“He had a tough start to the game, like our team. We had the tough seven minutes and paid for it,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “But he’s given us a chance to get to Game 7 again, couldn’t think of a better opportunity for him or for us, really a no-brainer to be honest with you.”
It looks like the Blues could make a couple of other lineup adjustments. Joel Edmundson could be back on defense in place of Robert Bortuzzo. Steve Ott is expected could be in on the fourth line, taking the place of Dmitrij Jaskin.
“I want people in the lineup who can add to the group, add the energy to the group. I’m looking for people that I think can [add something],” Hitchcock said. “I know how difficult this game is going to go. I know this is going to be a very difficult game, and it’s going to be played with a lot of emotion and a lot of intensity, more than probably even our players realize, and I want people who are not going to spit the bit when that happens. I’ll put those guys in accordingly.”
Who: St. Louis Blues at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark – Jason Spezza – Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel – Radek Faksa – Ales Hemsky
Colton Sceviour – Vernon Fiddler – Patrick Eaves
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Stephen Johns
Kris Russell – Jason Demers
Injured: Tyler Seguin (lower body), Travis Moen (hand)
Scratched: Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Brett Ritchie, Curtis McKenzie, Jack Campbell, Jason Dickinson, Julius Honka, Brendan Ranford, Justin Dowling
Jaden Schwartz – Alex Steen – Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri – Paul Stastny – Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund – Jori Lehtera – David Backes
Scottie Upshall – Kyle Brodziak – Steve Ott
Jay Bouwmeester – Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson - Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson – Colton Parayko
Scratched: Robert Bortuzzo, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold, Dmitrij Jaskin, Petteri Lindbohm, 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 DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.