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Stars hope to gain ground in Los Angeles tonight

Kari Lehtonen in goal; Jamie Benn skates, is a 'possibility' Tuesday in Anaheim

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

The Dallas Stars will play their 41st game of the season tonight, marking the midway point of the season. The Stars (16-16-8) come into tonight's game against the Los Angeles Kings in 12th place in the Western Conference but still in the thick the playoff race. They are four points out of the second wild-card spot with 42 games remaining.

There's a lot of hockey left, but a lot of work to do as well.

"It forces us to get in a must-win mode from this point forward," said Stars center Jason Spezza. "It could be something positive for us. Obviously, we are not happy with where we are in the standings, but it's the reality of where we are. We have an opportunity with [42] games left to make some hay, and we are in a group of five or six teams to make two or three playoff spots. We know where we are and feel like it is going to be a good battle down the stretch."

Tonight they play one of the teams they are chasing. Los Angeles holds that second wild-card spot and the Kings are four points ahead of the Stars. It's an opportunity to gain some ground in the final meeting of the season between the two teams.

"There's five or six teams around us, and we are all probably disappointed where we are in the standings," Spezza said. "These games become more important, and we are not going to see these guys again. It's a good opportunity to make up a little ground on them."

Video: Ruff and Spezza assess halfway point of season

It looks like the Stars will go with the same lineup as Saturday's game in St. Louis. Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice, so he is the expected starter in goal. He stopped 11 of 14 shots in Saturday's game before getting pulled in the second period.

The forward lines and defense pairs should remain the same. Stephen Johns and Curtis McKenzie are the expected scratches.

Jamie Benn, who has missed the past two games with a foot injury, skated with the team this morning at Staples Center. He is eligible to come off injured reserve but won't play tonight. He is getting better and hasn't been ruled out for Tuesday's game in Anaheim.

"A possibility [for Tuesday]," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "We'll see how he responded from today, but he is definitely getting better."

Benn was injured in the New Year's Eve game against Florida when the stick of Panthers defenseman Mark Pysyk got caught in his skate, and Benn went down awkwardly.

"It's been a day-to-day thing," Benn said. "A long travel day yesterday and had a good skate this morning, but I am hoping for tomorrow."

Stars talk Sunday's emergency landing

Sunday was a travel day for the Stars, and it was an eventful one. Shortly after taking from St. Louis to Los Angeles, what is believed to be an electrical problem led to smoke in the cockpit. The plane had to turn around and make an emergency landing at a St. Louis area airport. No one was hurt. The Stars got on another plane and made their way to L.A.

"I am not a fearful flyer, but I was a little bit scared. There was no fire on board, but it was scary," said Stars center Jason Spezza. "[The plane] wasn't really climbing, and we were wondering what was going on. When you fly as much as we do it is always in the back of your mind."

Said Stars coach Lindy Ruff: "Everybody on that plane had different thoughts, but the thoughts were all the same. The crew did a heck of a job getting us back. They are prepared for it. We prepare to do our jobs, and they prepare to do theirs. The crew and the pilots did a fabulous job."

Kings Watch

The Kings (20-16-4) have won three of their past four games. The Kings, who sit in the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, are just five points behind Edmonton, which is in third place in the Pacific Division and they have two games in hand on the Oilers. Peter Budaj was the first goaltender off the ice for the Kings, so he is expected to get the start in goal tonight.

Tonight's Game

Who: Dallas Stars at Los Angeles Kings
Where: Staples Center
When: 9:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest Plus
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM

Stars Projected Lineup

Jiri Hudler - Jason Spezza - Tyler Seguin
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Patrick Eaves
Devin Shore - Radek Faksa - Patrick Sharp
Lauri Korpikoski - Adam Cracknell - Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Jamie Oleksiak
Johnny Oduya - Jordie Benn

Kari Lehtonen
Antti Niemi

Scratched: Stephen Johns, Curtis McKenzie
Injured: Jamie Benn (foot), Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee)

Kings Projected Lineup

Marian Gaborik - Anze Kopitar - Trevor Lewis
Tanner Pearson - Jeff Carter - Dustin Brown
Kyle Clifford - Nic Dowd - Devin Setoguchi
Dwight King - Nick Shore - Jordan Nolan

Derek Forbort - Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin - Alec Martinez
Brayden McNabb - Matt Greene

Peter Budaj
Jeff Zatkoff

Scratched: Andy Andreoff, Kevin Gravel, Tom Gilbert
Injured: Jonathan Quick (groin), Tyler Toffoli (lower body)

This story was not subject to 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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