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Saturday Update: Eaves day to day; Nichushkin to play on Sunday

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars forward Patrick Eaves was on crutches Saturday afternoon, but coach Lindy Ruff said the injury Eaves suffered in Friday night’s game against St. Louis was not serious.

Eaves hobbled off the ice and had to be helped to the locker room in the third period after being hit in the lower leg by a puck off the stick of Dallas defenseman Stephen Johns.

“Nothing serious, just a real bad shot he took to the leg and should be just day-to-day,” Ruff said. “I know it always looks serious, but it’s all part of the recouping process.”

Ruff said Eaves was “questionable” for Game 2, but added that forward Valeri Nichushkin would be back in the lineup on Sunday. Nichushkin has been a healthy scratch the past two games.

“I think every time he steps on the ice, he works as hard as he possibly can. He’s been responsible,” Ruff said of Nichushkin. “I think there’s always some frustration with not producing. There are a lot of good players that are still in the playoffs, or that are out of the playoffs, that weren’t able to produce. It’s not an easy gig, even last night it was not easy to get on the board. I think if you can get by that frustration, he’ll be fine.

“I think he’s made a lot of strong plays defensively like getting back, he’s been in shot lanes, he’s blocked shots. He battles hard. I think he’s going to be really excited to be back in. Can he take that excitement and funnel it into the right places? He’s a young player. We’ll have to see and how he handles it. I know if he’s able to handle that excitement and funnel it in the right direction, we’ve got ourselves a real good player again.”

The line of Antoine Roussel, Radek Faksa and Ales Hemsky has turned into a very good line for the Dallas Stars. They came up big in Game 1 Friday, scoring both goals in the Stars’ 2-1 victory over St. Louis in the round two series opener. They’ve produced five goals in the Stars’ seven playoff games – two each for Faksa and Roussel and one for Hemsky.

“We just try to play responsible defensively and create some chances from that,” said Hemsky. “We play a lot of D zone faceoffs and do our job and chip in like we did. It’s a big bonus for our team. You just have to focus for your job and try to do your job.”

Stars coach Lindy Ruff put Roussel, Faksa and Hemsky together as a line on March 11.

“It’s just kind of lucky. Someone got injured, and they put us together,” Faksa said. “[Roussel] is battling very hard. He’ll get pucks for us. Ales can make plays, he can pass and hold the pucks.”

Although Ruff has juggled his lines at times since March 11, the Roussel-Faksa-Hemsky line has stayed together and the Stars are 15-5-1 including both regular season and playoffs.

Being a better team at home was a key goal for the Stars heading into this season, and it was mission accomplished. The Stars had the second-best home record during the regular season at 28-11-2 (58 points). That and a better record within the division were among the keys in helping the Stars win the Central and the top seed in the Western Conference.

Last season, the Stars were 17-16-8 (42 points) at home, which ranked 27th in the league.

“We’ve grown as a group. Last year we would get a little jumpy with the crowd and stuff, and we’d err on the side of offense. This year we just seem more composed as a group,” Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski said. “Composure and managing the game. We’d get ourselves in trouble last year trying to do a little too much. We learned our lesson, I guess.”

The Stars have been on a roll at home lately as well, winning nine of their past ten games including both regular season and playoffs. They won their final six regular-season games at American Airlines Center and are 3-1 so far in the playoffs. The only blemish was the overtime loss to Minnesota in Game 5 of the first round. The used home ice to grab a 2-0 series lead in the first round against the Wild and they hope to be able to use it to their advantage in the round two series against St. Louis.

“We’ve worked so hard to get [home-ice advantage]. We wanted that No. 1 seed,” Goligoski said. “At the time it doesn’t seem like it is that important, but you realize when you get into these playoff games, these home games are big.”

The Stars recalled forwards Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie from the Texas Stars of the AHL Saturday afternoon. Texas was knocked out of the AHL playoffs Friday night, falling 6-2 to San Diego in Game 4 of their first-round Calder Cup Playoffs series. San Diego won the best-of-five series, 3-1.

McKenzie registered one goal and one assist in the four playoff games. He finished second on Texas in scoring during the regular season with 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists) in 61 games.

Ritchie had one goal and one assist in three playoff games. Ritchie, who missed the first part of the season due to wrist surgery, registered 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 35 regular-season games with Texas.

“I like where his game is at. There’s some calmness to his game now, and I think the team feeds off of that calmness. I think he feels good about his game, and his numbers are good. His numbers are all good. We just hope that winning a series does for him what it should do to other players. It gives you that confidence that he finally knows he can be the goalie and help win a playoff series. I was extremely happy for him. The criticism has been there. He was in a tough place year one when I was here when we lost out, and it’s been a heck of a battle for him.”

- Stars coach Lindy Ruff on goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who is 4-1 in the playoffs with a 2.01 goals-against average and. 925 save percentage

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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