The Dallas Stars will try to continue their late season run when they take on the Buffalo Sabres tonight at American Airlines Center. The Stars are 5-1-0 in their past six games and 7-2-0 in the past nine.
The last time the Stars played the Sabres, Stars coach Lindy Ruff called it a “dangerous game” because of Buffalo being in a big slump and sitting at the bottom of the NHL standings. As it turned out, Ruff’s worries were justified. The Stars lost that game, 3-2, in Buffalo back in February.
That’s why he is looking at tonight’s game as a dangerous one as well, especially with the Stars coming off a big win over Chicago on Saturday.
“Well, you get here at 6:30 and you start worrying about it,” Ruff said. “You address the team at 9:30 and exactly the way you talked about: a huge win in a full house against a team that we’ve had some real good games, some heartbreaking losses. And we might have played one of our best games. Talked about exactly what you talked about, we have to play our best defensive game. Can’t be a loose team, and you have to be a highly-motivated team to do all the little things right inside the game to win this.”
And the Stars need wins. Despite the recent run, the Stars haven’t been able to make up any ground on the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They are eight points out with ten games remaining.
“We have to keep winning,” said defenseman John Klingberg. “We can’t look at the other teams that keep winning. We just have to take it game by game, period by period. We just have to think about that. There’s nothing more that we can do.”
The Stars aren’t expected to make any lineup changes for tonight’s game. The forward lines and defense pairs at this morning’s skate were the same as those used in Saturday’s game against Chicago. Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice, so it appears he will make his seventh straight start. Lehtonen is 5-1-0 in his past six starts with a 1.50 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. He’s coming off a 33-save shutout against Chicago.
“I just think he’s finally got himself on a little bit of a roll,” Ruff said. “He’s made that timely save for us. I think the biggest thing is none of the tough ones have gone in, which have hurt him. And I think sometimes he spends too much time on that bad goal that goes in, and maybe that influences the rest of his game. But none of those have really gone in when we’ve needed some big saves. Even the last game, he had the breakaway save and the penalty shot that changed the momentum for that part of the game.”
Ryan Garbutt skated as an extra forward this morning, so he is expected to be a healthy scratch for the fifth time in the last six games. Travis Moen, who has been out with an upper body injury, is available to play, but he is expected to be scratched as well. Valeri Nichushkin (hip) remains out, but he is getting close, according to Ruff.
Sabres watch: Lindback expected to start
Anders Lindback was the first goaltender off the ice for the Sabres this morning, so he is expected to start in goal tonight. Lindback is 1-4-2 with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage since being acquired from Dallas in January. Lindback’s GAA and save percentage are better than when he was in Dallas, where he posted a 3.71 and .875.
“He didn’t play poorly here,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “We’ve had a tough time getting our backup to win a game here and I don’t know if it’s solely on the shoulders of our goaltending. We’ve had some games where we’ve given up some pretty big situations and we’ve worked hard all year to clean that up. That part of our game has gotten better. So I don’t think it’s totally on the shoulders of the goaltender.”
Ruff added that Lindback getting to play more frequently has helped him get in a rhythm and that’s been a positive for the Buffalo netminder.
Sabres forward Tyler Ennis is questionable tonight due to illness. Forward Jerry D’Amigo is out with a facial injury, so the Sabres are expected to recall Tim Schaller from the AHL and put him in the lineup tonight.
Who: Buffalo Sabres at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Tyler Seguin
Patrick Eaves – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Curtis McKenzie – Shawn Horcoff – Brett Ritchie
Jyrki Jokipakka – Alex Goligoski
Patrik Nemeth – John Klingberg
Jordie Benn – Jason Demers
Scratched: Ryan Garbutt, Travis Moen
Injured: Trevor Daley (lower body), Valeri Nichushkin (hip)
Sabres projected lineup
Matt Moulson – Johan Larsson – Tyler Ennis
Marcus Foligno – Philip Varone – Brian Gionta
Tim Schaller – Mikhail Grigorenko – Cody Hodgson
Nicolas Deslauriers – Matt Ellis – Zac Dalpe
Mike Weber – Rasmus Ristolainen
Nikita Zadorov – Andrej Meszaros
Andre Benoit – Tyson Strachan
Injured: Zach Bogosian (lower body), Jerry D’Amigo (face), Zemgus Girgensons (foot), Josh Gorges (lower body), Chad Johnson (lower body), Patrick Kaleta (lower body), Evander Kane (shoulder surgery), Cody McCormick (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 DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.