The Dallas Stars will wrap up their five-game homestand tonight when they take on the New Jersey Devils at American Airlines Center. They’ve won three of the first four games on the homestand. The Olympic break is just around the corner and the Stars are hoping to make a strong push as far as the playoff race.
“When we tried to set some goals, we talked about trying to win three out of four, three out of four,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “This starts a new segment for us, so we’d like to get that off on the right foot here. If you can have a good finish before the break here, it sets us up. And it’s really a must because otherwise you’re chasing it too much.”
The Stars enter tonight’s game seven points behind Vancouver, which currently sits in the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They have five games, including tonight’s, before the league shuts down for the 2014 Olympics. It’s a crucial stretch for the Stars.
“It’s a unique year this year with the Olympics,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “I don’t think anyone knows what is going to happen after the Olympics. Are some teams going to get hit with injuries? Are some teams going to be tired because of players over there? It is going to be an even more condensed schedule. I think the closer you can stay to that playoff race, the better chance you are going to have. If you get too far away it is going to make it tough. These next five games are very important.”
Tonight the Stars will face a Devils team that defeated them, 1-0, on Jan. 9 in New Jersey. It’s the only time Dallas has been shut out this season.
On that day, Ruff compared playing the Devils to “crawling through a barbed-wire fence with a wool jacket on.” New Jersey ranks fifth in goals against (2.35) and allows the fewest shots on goal per game (25.6).
“They’re a tough team to play against. They take a lot of pride in that. This game is about creating, it’s about defending and they’re a tough team to get chances against,” Ruff said. “They always have been, and they don’t give up a lot of shots and they don’t take a lot of penalties, so that’s a lot of good qualities. You watch tape, you watch teams play, I like the way they play. I just think nine times out of 10 they’re not going to beat themselves.”
The Stars are expected to go with the same forward lines and defense pairing as last game. Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice, so it looks like he will make his ninth straight start for the Stars. Kevin Connauton is expected to be the scratch on defense. Dustin Jeffrey, who was recalled from the AHL this morning, will be the scratch at forward. The Stars recalled Jeffrey to have an extra forward for the upcoming road trip.
Cory Schneider will get the start in goal for the Devils, who are expected to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen for tonight’s game.
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“I said that before that when he got older, he would be the best player in the world one day. It’s up to him. He’s got to go through the ups and downs, especially through first few years, but he’s got the things to work on it. It’s up to him.”
Who: New Jersey Devils 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 – Tyler Seguin – Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Ray Whitney – Vernon Fiddler – Erik Cole
Rich Peverley – Shawn Horcoff – Alex Chiasson
Alex Goligoski – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Brenden Dillon
Aaron Rome – Sergei Gonchar
Devils projected lineup
Dainius Zubrus – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Patrik Elias – Stephen Gionta - Damien Brunner
Ryan Clowe – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Ryan Carter – Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador – Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov – Jon Merrill
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.